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Nira Wickramasinghe

Published On


Page Range

pp. 43-55

Print Length

12 pages

4. History as Heritage: Producing the Present in Post-War Sri Lanka

  • Nira Wickramasinghe (author)
This paper explores the consolidation by a patriotic post-conflict state of a notion of history reinvented as national heritage. The distinction between history as an analysis of the past and heritage was rarely made explicit in the public discourse. After the war ended the distinction disappeared entirely except in some rare university history departments. Heritage as we understand it, is present centred and is created, shaped and managed by and in response to, the demands of the present. It is to follow Lowenthal, not history at all. While it borrows from and enlivens historical study, it is not an enquiry into the past but a celebration of it. The distinction between heritage and history is one of motive. Heritage is best understood as a claim, a special pleading. History in post war Sri Lanka has abandoned specialized journals to inhabit and flourish in theatre, film, videos and pamphlets encouraged by the patriotic state. Professional historians too have either left the public sphere or acquiesced in the production of a history/heritage. A minority of critical historians remain however committed to exploring how memory is constructed over time, how facts are actually encoding of memories and how when you peel off layers of memories, you can unravel the politics that lay behind the construction of the standard story. This study will draw from an array of sources and practices to assess the feasibility of devising alternative strategies in the production of historical knowledge that contest the blurring of boundaries between history and heritage and address a series of questions that haunt the historical enterprise.


Nira Wickramasinghe