Tranquebar – Whose History? – University of Copenhagen

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Tranquebar – Whose History?

Transnational Cultural Heritage in a former Danish Trading Colony in South India

PhD Thesis by Helle Jørgensen, 2010

Main supervisor: Associate professor, PhD Niels Brimnes, Department of Culture and Society - History Department, University of Aarhus

Co-supervisor: Professor Esther Fihl, Centre for Comparative Cultural Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

English Abstract

Danish Resumé 

 

Helle Jørgensen
Tranquebar – Whose History?
Transnational Cultural Heritage in a former Danish Trading Colony in South India 2010 

English Summary

This thesis comprises an ethnography of the contemporary practices through which the own of Tranquebar emerges as a heritage town with a point of departure in a particular art of its colonial history. Formally declared as heritage by the government of Tamil Nadu due to its well-preserved townscape from the Indo-Danish colonial period in 1620-1845, the town has for decades been subject to both Danish and Indian attempts at preserving and promoting it as a destination of heritage tourism. In this process claims are made on the town as an expression of cross-cultural heritage; but whose – and what – heritage is being secured as the townscape of Tranquebar is being preserved?

Exploring these questions, the study is based on anthropological fieldwork conducted in Tranquebar between August 2007 and March 2008. The analytical ambition in the thesis is to capture the dynamic social process in which the townscape of Tranquebar has become subject to promotion as a material embodiment of transnational history, and thereby to explore the negotiations of historicity that come into play amongst the many stakeholders in this process, including residents, heritage and tourism developers, public authorities, scholars and tourists.

Many histories are at stake in the current development of the town. Based on in-depth analysis of the perceptions of heritage and development which are at play in this process, as well as the practices of construction that shape the townscape materially, and the entangled narrations and imaginations of history that emerge in the encounters between the many agents who are engaged in Tranquebar, I show how the townscape 348 and histories of Tranquebar have come to constitute an ongoing field of negotiations that encompass both local livelihoods, transnational relations and (post)colonial history.

The thesis is structured in three thematic chapters which each deal with different aspects of the multifaceted process of negotiation which encompasses the townscape of Tranquebar as well as the experiences and narrations of historicity amongst the many agents who engage in the contemporary development of the town.

Chapter 1 examines the increasing role of the concept of heritage in Tranquebar; a role which is constituted in interplay with conceptions of the town as subject to a condition of socioeconomic underdevelopment that is characterised as ‘remoteness’ both by residents, visitors, and professionals in heritage town planning. Here, the concepts of ‘heritage’ and ‘history’ come to serve as a means for motivating and promoting socioeconomic development in Tranquebar, rendering it less remote.

Chapter 2 is focused on the practices and politics of controlling the current development in Tranquebar, exploring the tensions that appear between different conceptions of development and heritage. In this field contestation is expressed both materially in the practices of construction, restoration and consumption that are continually reshaping the townscape and the life in it; and in differing experiences of historicity and aesthetics which are manifested in the same townscape.

Chapter 3 explores the shifting constructions of history which are at play in Tranquebar, as the town is increasingly being promoted as an Indo-Danish heritage town. The chapter investigates how, in their encounters with each other, both residents and visitors of the town are confronted with questions of what the colonial past means in the present, how they should recall and relate to it, and in particular how the relationships of that past are rendered relevant in the contemporary postcolonial context.

 

Helle Jørgensen
Tranquebar – Whose History?
Transnational Cultural Heritage in a former Danish Trading Colony in South India 2010

Dansk resume

Denne afhandling udgør en etnografi over de nutidige praksisser hvormed Tranquebar udvikles som kulturarvsby med udgangspunkt i en bestemt del af dens kolonihistorie. Byen blev formelt erklæret for kulturarv af Tamil Nadus regering på grund af dens velbevarede bylandskab fra den indo-danske koloniperiode i 1620-1845, og har i årtier været genstand for både danske og indiske forsøg på at bevare og promovere den som en destination for kulturarvsturisme. I denne proces fremsættes krav på byen som et udtryk for tværkulturel kulturarv; men hvis – og hvilken – kulturarv er det, der sikres ved bevaringen af Tranquebars bylandskab? For at udforske disse spørgsmål er studiet baseret på antropologisk feltarbejde udført i Tranquebar mellem august 2007 og marts 2008.

Den analytiske ambition i afhandlingen er at indfange den dynamiske sociale proces hvori Tranquebars bylandskab er blevet genstand for promovering som en materialisering af transnational historie, og derved at udforske de forhandlinger af historicitet, som kommer i spil mellem de mange interessenter i denne proces, inklusive beboere, kulturarvs- og turismeudviklere, offentlige myndigheder, forskere og turister.

Mange historier er på spil i byens aktuelle udvikling. Baseret på dybtgående analyse af de opfattelser af kulturarv og udvikling som er på spil i denne proces, såvel som de byggepraksisser der former byen materielt, og de indbyrdes forbundne fortællinger og forestillinger om historie som opstår i møderne mellem de mange aktører som er involverede i Tranquebar, viser jeg hvordan Tranquebars bylandskab og historie(r) har udviklet sig til et kontinuerligt forhandlingsfelt, som omfatter både lokale levevilkår, transnationale relationer, og (post)kolonial historie.

Afhandlingen er struktureret i tre tematiske kapitler, som omhandler hver deres aspekter af den mangfoldige forhandlingsproces der omfatter såvel Tranquebars bylandskab som erfaringer og fortællinger om historicitet blandt de agenter, der engagerer sig i byens udvikling.

Kapitel 1 undersøger den voksende rolle som kulturarvsbegrebet spiller i Tranquebar; en rolle som konstitueres i samspil med opfattelser af byen som værende præget af en tilstand af underudvikling, der betegnes som ’afsideshed’ af både beboere, besøgende, og professionelle i kulturarvs- og byudvikling. I denne sammenhæng bliver begreberne ’kulturarv’ og ’historie’ brugt til at motivere og promovere en socioøkonomisk udvikling i byen, som sigter mod at gøre den mindre afsides.

Kapitel 2 fokuserer på politik og praksis omkring styring af den aktuelle udvikling i Tranquebar, og udforsker de spændinger som her træder frem mellem forskellige opfattelser af udvikling og kulturarv. I dette felt udtrykkes modstridende opfattelser både materielt i de former for praksis omkring byggeri, restaurering og forbrug som fortløbende former byen og livet i den; og i divergerende erfaringer af historicitet og æstetik som manifesteres i det samme bylandskab.

Kapitel 3 udforsker de skiftende udlægninger af historie som er på spil i Tranquebar, idet byen i stigende grad promoveres som en indo-dansk kulturarvsby. Kapitlet undersøger hvordan både beboere og besøgende i byen i deres møder med hinanden konfronteres med spørgsmål om, hvad kolonitiden betyder i nutiden, hvordan de skal genkalde sig den og forholde sig til den, og i særdeleshed hvordan fortidens relationer er relevante i nutidens postkoloniale sammenhæng.