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

Research Papers

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

ICES Research Paper No. 2

By Nira Wickramasinghe. Research Paper No: 2. Colombo, ICES, 2012. 30p.

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 of Sri Lanka. 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 David Lowenthal, not history at all. While it borrows from and enlivens historical study, heritage 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. This study will draw from an array of sources and practices to develop an understanding of the ideological underpinnings of the new popular history/heritage.

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