Book Chapter

Unlocking Essences and Exploring Networks: Experiencing Authenticity in Heritage Education Settings



Jones S (2016) Unlocking Essences and Exploring Networks: Experiencing Authenticity in Heritage Education Settings. In: Van Boxtel C, Grever M & Klein S (eds.) Sensitive Pasts: Questioning Heritage in Education. Making Sense of History, 27. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 130-152.

First paragraph: In an extract from an ethnographic interview about Glasgow Cathedral, Margaret, a Glasgow resident of Catholic faith, offers a powerful articulation of the experience of authenticity:[i] ‘I know it’s just stone [a little embarrassed], but I think it absorbs things, it’s like its alive […] It’s absorbed the presence of the people who’ve been here in the past […] Just remember, stone speaks’.[ii] The Cathedral provides her with a palpable sense of the people who have passed through it as a site of worship and pilgrimage. Most importantly, the presence of these people has apparently become part of the fabric of the building. It has seeped into the stone, and hence ‘stone speaks’ (Figure 7.1). For others too, the building provides a strong sense of connection across time and place. Members of the current, Protestant congregation see it as an embodiment of a community of faith, both in time and in space. Here again the tangible and the intangible intersect to provide a powerful sense of continuity and connection; as one congregation member put it, ‘the rocks remain’, whilst another talked of faith ‘seeping from the walls’. For those who work in, or on, the building, it also offers a sense of connection with the past. For Sarah, a custodian, there is a fleeting moment of communion with those who came before her, as she polishes brass worn by hands across the ages. For Peter, an Historic Scotland architect overseeing conservation work, each stone embodies the labour of those involved in the construction of the Cathedral: ‘it’s still that stone that was cut, that was taken up a rickety wooden scaffold that lots of people had probably fallen off, had been given the final dressing and placed in the mortar bed, and was an integral component, therefore of the thing itself, of the thing that we are trying to conserve’.[iii] Whereas for Historic Scotland stonemasons replacing decaying stone as part of an ongoing conservation project, the building is the incarnation of a craft tradition defined by the unchanging principles of cutting stone. [i] This interview was undertaken during fieldwork focusing on the cultural significance of Glasgow Cathedral in 2011. It is part of a longer-term ethnographic project focusing on conservation work carried out by Historic Scotland in collaboration with Dr Tom Yarrow, Durham University. [ii] Interview with Margaret, Glasgow Cathedral, 2011. [iii] Interview with Peter, Glasgow Cathedral, 2010. [iv]

Authenticity; Experience; Heritage; Education

Title of seriesMaking Sense of History
Number in series27
Publication date01/12/2016
PublisherBerghahn Books
Publisher URL…nBoxtelSensitive
Place of publicationOxford

People (1)


Professor Sian Jones

Professor Sian Jones

Professor of Heritage, History