When looking at how Stroud’s history information boards portray the history of Stroud, we could do worse than relocate Bill Schwarz’s observation from Camden to Stroud (foreword to Raphael Samuel’s Theatres of Memory): ‘… the past has almost caught up with the present’. I say this because Stroud’s past been partly press-ganged on these boards to serve the needs of the present: tourists and visitors, spend your money, please.
But only partly press-ganged. The past still exists as a heritage tale on these boards and these boards help us individually make sense of what happened in our town. Bill Schwarz again: ‘The starting point of Theatres of Memory … is that history is not the prerogative of the historian … As readers of Theatres of Memory will know … Samuel is less preoccupied with the procedures of mainstream or professional history … he is engaged by the ‘unofficial knowledges’ that give form to the popular articulations of the past and present’.
So what ‘heritage ’do we find on these information boards? And might we re-write it?
Samuel wrote how ‘heritage’ can become ‘an expressive totality, a seamless web … systemic, projecting a unified set of meanings which are impervious to challenge – what Umberto Eco calls ‘hyper-reality … a ‘closed story’, i.e. a fixed narrative which allows of neither subtext nor counter-readings.’ So, he contended, be suspicious of professional historians: they so often ‘suppress the authorial ‘I’ so that the evidence appears to itself’; but, ‘History is an allegorical as well as … a mimetic art … Like allegorists, historians are adept at discovering a hidden or half-hidden order. We find occult meanings in apparently simple truths … the historian’s ‘reading’ of the evidence could be seen as an essay in make believe … an exercise in the story-teller’s arts …’
So, let’s examine the official heritage of Stroud, via textual selections from the official heritage information boards:
Allegorical? Mimetic? Mythic?
Whose allegory, mimesis and myth?
What did it say in Nineteen Eighty Four?
‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
Subsequent posts will deconstruct Stroud’s heritage boards; after that, the next series of posts will offer an alternative view of Stroud’s ‘heritage’.