Experiencing Kokoda: Constructing heritage through engagement with place

01st June 2012

In this thesis I explore how consumers of heritage construct, conceptualise and create heritage values through personal experiences of place. The main aims of my thesis are to understand how people engage with heritage places, and to investigate the values that are created through an embodied engagement with heritage. To explore how people interact with tangible places, and the intangible heritage values associated with such places, this thesis examines the contemporary significance of the Kokoda Trail within a theoretical framework of a lived experience of heritage. I review the notion of engaging and experiencing heritage as a technique for expanding our understanding of non-Indigenous heritage to include aspects of spirituality, performance and memory. Heritage can be consumed, enacted, experienced and felt, and this takes place in both physical and cognitive realms of human activity.

My research includes an investigation of the ways in which people who trek the Kokoda Trail attach meaning to heritage. I use a constructivist paradigm and qualitative methods. This approach has allowed the trekkers’ voices to be the central focus for understanding what people do at cultural heritage sites and how they give value to their experiences. Through a theoretical framework of a lived experience of heritage, I demonstrate that non-physical dimensions of heritage are important elements for how people attach meaning to experiences and for how heritage values arise through those experiences. Through the exploration of the Kokoda Trail as an experience of cultural heritage, I was able to reveal that relationships between tangible places and intangible heritage are also enacted in non-Indigenous heritage settings. Cultural heritage is a part of people’s lived experiences, and a failure to recognise these non-physical dimensions of heritage denies people the opportunity to engage with and construct a range of values for heritage places. My thesis serves to fill a gap in cultural heritage management discourses on how heritage places become significant through present-day cultural processes and activities. I conclude that cultural significance is a judgement based on people’s relationships to place and that intangible qualities of heritage are important elements in how people create the living value of cultural heritage.

John Wilson
Experiencing Kokoda: Constructing heritage through engagement with place
June 2012
Thesis Abstracts
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