Human aspects of historic urban environments

Authored by: Jeremy C. Wells

The Routledge Handbook on Historic Urban Landscapes in the Asia-Pacific

Print publication date:  January  2020
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138598256
eBook ISBN: 9780429486470
Adobe ISBN:


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For most of the twentieth century, the question of what makes an environment historic was always assumed to be asked of an expert, and not from everyday people who were not conventionally trained experts in some aspect of history, design, or aesthetics. Yet, we must recognize that the primary beneficiaries of the recognition, treatment, and protection of older places are these very ordinary people. Recognizing everyday people as ‘civil experts’—in the context of historic places—is an essential step in understanding the human aspects of historic urban environments because we need to understand what is ‘historic’ and ‘not historic’ from this perspective in balance with the perspective of conventionally trained experts. Acknowledging everyday people as civil experts also requires that we respect their knowledge, and, in turn, respect these people as equals, in some cases, to conventionally trained experts. To shed light on this issue, this chapter briefly introduces the essential characteristics of the orthodox management of historic urban places. Rather than treating this practice as grounded in objectively scientific principles, it is better understood as a kind of professional culture. The chapter does this not to introduce a relativism between the cultures of conventional experts and civil experts, but rather to establish the importance of situational knowledge in certain contexts. The chapter then discusses the heritage aspects of culture from the perspective of civil experts, followed by specific case studies illustrating human-cantered conservation research and practice in the Asia and Pacific region.

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