Cultures around the world put up monuments to memorialize heroes, achievements, events (whether traumatic or triumphal), religious aspirations, intentions for the future, and regrets about the past. What does the world preserve and remember? And how? These built sites mark real places and help produce a virtual reality that becomes even more powerful than the real.
In this course, we’ll visit, study, and write about such cultural sites — including especially UNESCO World Heritage Sites — and the ways they encounter their many audiences. Beginning the course with brief readings in ongoing conversations about heritage (in anthropology, human rights philosophy, and art history), we’ll then develop an approach to take with us in our fieldwork. Throughout, exemplary travel writing from contemporary authors will model the beautifully written, ethically alive, aesthetically responsive prosecraft to which we’ll aspire. We will consider the way that words collaborate with architecture and landscape to allow built sites to address their various audiences, support ritual performance and liturgy, embody visual and verbal perspective (bring a camera, even if it’s only in your phone), and direct our experience with signage, story telling, inscription, graffiti and other modes of legitimate or rebellious interactivity.
Students will develop individual and collaborative accounts of heritage sites according to their particular itinerary of visits, writing multiple short essays and then choosing two of them to develop into longer essays. In addition to great writing, a high quality of class participation will be rewarded (this is a seminar, not a lecture course).
Field WorkCountry: Japan
Day: 2 - Thursday, 28 January
We will explore the gorgeous “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Nara was the capitol of Japan for most of the 8th century, 710-784. Laid out by means of geomantic principles, the complex includes the Imperial Palace, five ornate Buddhist temples, and a Shinto shrine together with the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. The stunning architectural treasures of the sacred site testify to the interaction of medieval Japan with China and Korea, as well as the nation’s integration of devotional practices, political administration, and natural landscape. The complexity of the site will present us with challenges in discovering or inventing a narrative route we can recommend to our own audiences. Temperatures may be in the 40s or colder, and we will be walking outside, perhaps feeding the tame deer, so dress warmly.
1. Visit the UNESCO site and experience its layers, documenting our responses. What kind of encounter is a pilgrimage to Nara?
2. Articulate the implied audience, the effectiveness of the spatial organization, the point of view of stories told.
3. Develop an analytical account of the concept of heritage embodied at Nara and its successes. What should we “add” to the site on our website to make Nara a more effective experience for our readers?