International Council Finding the Spirit of the place

16th General Assembly and International Scientific Symposium

Quebec, Canada, September 29 – October 4, 2008

Summary of theme and sub-themes


Theme 1 : Re-thinking spirit and place
Theme 2 : The threats to the spirit of place
Theme 3 : Preservation of the spirit of place
Theme 4 : Transmitting the spirit of place


Theme 5 : The role of memory
Theme 6 : The fragility of spirit of place
Theme 7 : Safeguarding and transmitting the spirit of place


1. Re-thinking spirit and place

In this section we are addressing the theoretical issues raised by the dialectics between spirit and place, the intangible and the tangible. It would be interesting to apply the notion of objectification to different situations and contexts to see how it varies over time and space. The production of heritage itself calls upon the dialectical relationship between the tangible and the intangible. The restoration of sites sometimes requires the construction of material forms to express abstract ideas, in other words a process of materialization of the intangible, while in other instances restoration demands the deconstruction of material form of sites to produce meaning, or an immaterialization of the tangible. We are thus invited to examine in greater depth the important relationship between the physical site, its creator and the people who use it, who can sometimes end up giving the site a very different meaning from that originally intended (De Certeau 1990).

Key words: material culture theory, objectification, héritage making, social use, community, commemoration, memory, remembering, forgetting.

2. The threats to the spirit of place

This section deals with the tangible and intangible threats to which the spirit of place is exposed: physical degradation, voluntary destruction, abandonment, excessive tourism, etc.. The deterioration of the environment, touristification, folklorization, transnational migrations and ethnic and religious conflicts often lead to the destruction and abandonment of heritage sites.
Key words: conflicts, frontiers, degradation, destruction, abandonment, tourism, folklorization, innovation, cultural behavior, nostalgia, migrations, listing, inventories.

3. Preservation of the spirit of place

This section focuses on the study of the different means and methods for protecting and preserving of spirit of place. In most countries around the world, policies and sound practices have been developed in order to protect and conserve tangible heritage, historic sites and material objects. Although efforts are being made to protect intangible cultural heritage, there is still much discussion and debate on what constitutes sound conservation practices as well as on the difficulties in putting them into practice.

Key words: conservation policies and practices, legal framework, plurality, reflexivity, restoration, integration, tradition bearers.

4. Transmitting the spirit of place

In this section, we are broaching the subject of the transmission of the spirit of place. Transmission is an essential condition of preservation because inheritance ensures survival; if the spirit of place is not transmitted, it is often abandoned and disappears. Though transmission is crucial, it is at the same time a delicate and difficult operation as it involves mediation and mediators who, either consciously or unconsciously, transform the spirit of place to better preserve or appropriate it. Furthermore, different groups can appropriate a place and its spirit can thus be transformed several times over the course of its existence. As place is re-appropriated and culturally re-contextualized, often through intangible practices, it can produce a new spirit, new social configurations and new subjects.

Key words: interpretation, transmission, safeguarding, meaning, mediation, transformation, appropriation, recontextualization, revitalization, technologies.


5- The role of memory

Acknowledging the role played by memory in defining the spirit of place is an interesting opening topic. Places and material objects are bearers of memory, which at the same time help shape it. Memory can be “happy,” as the inexpressible joy Proust experiences tasting a Madeleine perfectly illustrates, or “sad,” as so aptly evoked by the Berlin Wall. Do spirit of place and memory not spring from the same source?

Key words: memory, forgetting, mnemonic tools, mourning, commemorative uses, monuments and toponymy.

6- The fragility of spirit of place

To understand the fragility of a place, we must first recognize the threats to which the spirit that inhabits it is exposed. All causes of deterioration to a place of historic value are a threat to its spirit. We are thus invited to assess the consequences of both human and natural catastrophes (war, hurricanes, earthquakes, abandonment, vandalism, migration, globalization and new technologies) for heritage sites. Could it not be said that heritage sites, as the bearers of memory of a specific people and sometimes even of all mankind, are perfect targets?

Key words: physical and construction qualities, deterioration, destruction, tourism, transformation, climatic factors, fragility and new technologies.

7- Safeguarding and transmitting the spirit of place

In this section, we will examine the stakes underlying the strategies developed for protecting and valorizing heritage sites so as to determine which avenues are most likely to bring to light their inherent spirit. Could new technologies be used to establish closer ties between the spirit of place and the users of a place? Would it be possible to manipulate the debate on spirit of place? Does archaeological research bring to light or rather dispel the spirit of place? Could spirit of place become a source of inspiration when integrating new architecture in historical centers? Can the spirit of place survive without tradition bearers?

Key words: conservation practices, restoration, tradition bearers, inventory, characterization, regulation, transmission and protection.