On “State production of cultural nationalism: political leaders and preservation policies for historic buildings in France and Italy” by Mark Thatcher
The article that I read and interpreted for my class ARCH451, Fundamentals of Cultural Heritage Conservation this week is about how preservation can be a tool for the state to impose cultural nationalism by the legislatures.
The case of national political leaders adopting policies to protect historic buildings for aims of political nationalism has always been a valid discussion in both preservation and politics. The article focuses on one of the two main countries that have made a name in the preservation of historical monuments, France and Italy. To have a comparison between these two countries, we must first understand that they both have very different characteristics even though they seem similar and near. Hans Kohn categorizes these countries under different categories even: he suggests in “western nations” such as France, England and the U.S., the nationalism shows itself more dominantly in politics and economics whereas in “non-western nations” such as Italy, Germany and Slavonic states, the nationalism is more apparent in the culture. But later views on this topic say that the modern nation-state goes hand in hand with cultural nationalism. Leersen (2006) says “the state produces or ‘cultivates’ cultural nationalism as part of strategies of building and reinforcing the nation state and national identity.” Even since after the 1789 revolution, France have been using this tool. Economic growth is another reason for the state to use this tool in many countries.
The French, since 1789, have always preserved the idea of reinforcing national identity. Abbé Gregoire was an important name in the 1790s. He made reports of the Convention National and was known for his opposition to vandalism, calling for “national objects” as property of all.
After the 1830 revolution, there was a board called “Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historique” within Interior Ministry. The board continued their presence with Napoleon III, whose regime sought to promote its prestige through arts and culture ( for example Garnier Opera House dates back to the second empire period). Napoleon III was particularly interested in preservation. The identity they held on to most was the Roman heritage. Cities like Nimes, Arles and the famous medieval town of Carcassonne were the important Roman heritage they paid attention to in this era. They were preserved and mostly restored by Eugune Viollet le-Duc. Protection matters were dependant on the priorities of the inspectors and most of all, political leaders.
After the birth of the third republic, Administration des Beaux Arts was part of the Ministry of Education. This era was perhaps a little too nationalist. The French cultural superiority and Paris as the most beautiful city were notions that were stressed… After the 1860s, Paris under Haussmann went under renovation. He, as a prefect, demolished many medieval buildings for better boulevards and to liberate the view for prestigious landmarks such as the Louvre. He followed a “centralized” response to local preservation movements. Paris city plan as we know it owes a great deal to these decisions on what to preserve and what to modernize.
These led to the 1887 law on preservation which would suggest a national interest should be kept in mind while preserving and a “nationale rationale” should be a criteria.
During war times, the subjects of exportation were discussed more due to international people going in and out of the country. So, there was a fear of people taking heritage away. Laws were made on this matter and most buildings started to be listed, laws on monuments inscrits were made.
Post 1945, one of the important events was in 1958 De Gaulle established the Ministry of Culture and appointed modernist André Malraux. He introduced protected sectors by loi Malraux in 1962. This was an important step because this gave preservation value to a place even though it lacks historic monuments but they have aesthetic value or historic interest as a whole.
With all these developments on preservation through French history, one thing that stikes me is the consistent control of the state. The preservation is always at the utmost use of the central government. And this is what differs it from Italy. Historically, Italy has always been a little scattered in terms of centralized state. What is interesting to read is that the legislative protection over historical monuments was already existing before the unified Italy came to existance. Another note-worthy point about this is that the national identity of the people was pre-existing even before a politically united nation.
In the case of Italy, the preservation legislative have always been more comprehensive and often earlier than France and most of Europe. In the era before 1870, there were laws on protection about the exportation of artistic objects. There were limits for foreigners to take things away. These concerns grew after Napoleon’s theft of artifacts. In Italy’s perspective on preservation, there has always been a contradiction between the private/economic interest and the public interest. I think, because in history, most Italian states were widely doing trade, the private interest and matters of merchandise had always greater importance.
Differing from France’s 1913 laws, 1909 Italian laws make clear points about restriction on expropriation of historical objects, even if they are privately owned. As a similarity, the philosophers and intellectuals argue that the landscape is the material and visible representation of the whole country. During the fascist era, 1922-44 there were no legislation for a while under Mussolini. When they made new legislature or preserved buildings it was mostly dating back to Roman or other inferior times. This decision making of preserving an era that represents stronger central state rather than preserving weaker times, is an example of state’s power of using preservation as a tool to convey whatever message they want to convey.
The extending of preservation laws continued before and after the second world war as well with planning implementations added. A key issue in Italian preservation is the issue of implementation. Even though the legal protection is strong, there have been a growth of illegal building works that damage the landscape due to administrative weaknesses and corruption starting with the 50s and 60s.
Preservation, can always be a tool for states to impose the political, cultural and social atmosphere they aim to impose on the people. A point worth noting is how both ends of the political spectrum can agree on preservation as a means of “building a modern nation” or reinforcing the national identity. Italy, usually governed by more right-leaning tendencies, started to preserve even before the whole nation was unified and France with a more republican approach and secular values, also built this identity through the preservation of monuments and even used it to reinforce central state.
Even when we remember the early republican times in Turkey, we can see the national values being preserved had more to do with the Mesopotamian heritage, or the Turkish identity that exists without the help of religious values and today we see another type of cultural implementation with an importance on the religious national identity. We can make many political implications if we merely look at the fake preservation of historical monuments in today’s Turkey. I believe this fake-preservation (also fake conservatism both politically and architecturally) may even reflect how the values of the current ruling state are actually non-existent on the political ground.