An object of cultural significance

Some objects achieve an exceptional status as cultural and historical landmarks both in an international, national and local context. Some of these achieve such a status that tourists cannot visit their homeland without trying to visit the artifacts. Different countries have different types of artifacts that have become their cultural landmark, for China it is the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors, Norway have its Viking Ships, UK have Big Ben and Stonehenge, and Greece have the Acropolis and the Elgin Marbles, although these are now found in the British Museum. In this update I will explore what I believe is the reason these objects, artifacts and places have come to mean so much for the people and the states.
There are a set of factors that in my eyes created the circumstances in which these objects developed their status and symbolic position. The first one is the reformation and the raise of the printing press in Europe, for this created a set of channels through which ideas and meaning could be shared with a greater audience than the medieval literate ecclesiastical elite. This combined with the rising number of Universities and humanist ideas created a foundation for philosophical developments of the early modern age. Out of these foundations did the ideas of nationalism and cultural identity developed as a set of ideas which shape the world today. I believe that it is within the sense of a shared identity and imagined community that we best can understand these objects, for through the 18th and 19th century ideas of nationalism and romanticism the notion of one unified and homogeneous nation emerged. And to many thinkers a nation was a natural unit or ethnic group which existed statically surviving throughout the ages. And even if the name or the culture of the previous generations did not match the 19th century members of these nations, these earlier generations were seen as the origins of the nation, their forefathers. It is within this notion of ‘Our’ forefathers, that these objects: the Viking ships of Norway, the Elgin Marbles of Greece and the Terracotta Warriors of China achieved symbolic importance as a remnant of the past surviving among the modern nation.
It is one thing that the educated elites developed a sentiment for a national community that survived through the ages and had its roots in the ancient times, but for these sentiments to spread into the minds of the rest of the population education and the displaying of these objects were needed. Education was needed so that the nation could recognize the importance of the context of these objects in the National development. The display of these objects was needed so that they would be able to recognize the objects themselves and create a link with them in their mind as a symbol of the history of their nation and community. I believed that this is one of the mechanisms that have developed the sentimental interpretation of some objects to have more cultural significance than others, especially within the setting of nationalism and the nation-states of the 19th and 20th century. This sentiment and idea that the objects have a link to the current nation is one of the many reasons why for example Greece want the Elgin Marbles returned to Athens, or Egypt want objects of similar importance returned. I believe that the combination of public schooling and museums with the academic developments of the 18th and 19th century created the framework for these objects to achieve such status. A status which today is promoted through tourism and marketing as well as UNESCO’s world heritage work.

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