Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Taking advantage of the London Olympics

As if the National Council on ArchivesArchives Awareness Campaign and BBC TV’s Who Do You Think You Are? were not enough, archivists, especially those in the under-funded local government sector, more than most already suffering under unrealistic government policy initiatives, now have to face the diversion of Heritage Lottery Fund money away from archives to underpin the Olympics in 2012.

Carole Souter, director, HLF

The extent of the threat posed to archives by the Olympics is clearly not understood by the chattering classes, opinion formers and leading journalists, as evidenced by Carole Souter’s article in the BBC magazine Opinion, entitled The 2012 London Olympics are an opportunity, not a threat, for our heritage.

So much then for attempts at lobbying for the archives sector by the great and good of British archives (see our earlier blog Save Our Cultural Heritage) and the Archives Task Force (see Bollocks, Bullshit and Balderdash)

The gist of Miss Souter’s argument is that the Olympics will lead to direct benefit for British cultural heritage by virtue of increased numbers of foreign visitors enjoying a wider appreciation of our heritage. However, her argument is deficient in that she makes no suggestion as to how our under-funded museums, art galleries, libraries and archives can continue to operate without adequate funding in the meantime, especially if HLF funds are diverted to the Olympics.

Moreover, she fails to recognise the real but intangible nature of British heritage, which surely is our legacy of democratic government, the rule of law, the English language, the Common Law, Magna Carta, trial by jury, presumption of innocence and the Bill of Rights. No doubt these along with our customary weights and measures will be casually disregarded.

Instead, Miss Souter favours among our top five cultural and heritage icons Stonehenge, for which no specifications, quantity survey or original architectural drawings survive and whose precise purpose and contribution to our cultural heritage are surely entirely mythical or speculative, and the Royal Festival Hall. She also mentions the Jurassic Coast, formed before the evolution of mankind, let alone before recorded history. These manifestations of our heritage are much more convenient to Europhiles however.

It is crucial to understand the difference between our three dimensional heritage and our cultural heritage. For an artefact or building to be said to have contributed to our culture and therefore to constitute part of our cultural heritage, it must form part of a living and continuous chain of events in recorded history. This view would certainly permit the inclusion of the Royal Festival Hall but not Stonehenge as there is no link between the culture that created it and our present culture.

We wish Miss Souter an enjoyable Olympics year of basic, politically correct enjoyment of simplified British history.

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