Upcycling and reclaiming heritage in Gibraltar

A Barbary Macaques monkey, unofficially known as the national animal of Gibraltar.

Project Team: Jason Dittmer, Emma Waterton and Chris Grocott

This project explores the role of heritage in Gibraltar and considers how the case of Gibraltar might be used as a resolution to the political stalemate of the ‘heritage wars’. Current debates around British colonial heritage, inspired by the Rhodes Must Fall and Black Lives Matter campaigns, highlight the tension between state-centred accounts of colonial heritage (in which such heritage generally must be preserved) and those produced by anti-colonial social movements (in which there are agitations for the removal of such heritage). A stalemate of sorts has formed, wherein activists advocate for more diverse and anti-racist urban spaces and heritage institutions, and the Government battles so-called ‘woke-ness’ in heritage administration through attempts to control trustee appointments to institutions such as the V&A and National Trust. This dynamic has allowed the debate to become caught up in the ‘culture wars’ partisan dynamic, with both sides talking past one another. A new way forward is required.

The project From the Remains of Empire seeks to make sense of heritage practices in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, where interest in British colonial and military sites is both strong and linked to the polity’s emergence on the world stage as a mostly autonomous, non-colonised actor (in a 2002 referendum, 99% of Gibraltarian voters opted to remain under British sovereignty). In Gibraltar, the debate between policies of heritage preservation and decolonisation is a false choice, both because the heritage tourism sector underpins the polity’s fiscal autonomy, and because Gibraltarians strategically see themselves as both a nation and part of the ‘British family’. That is, their Britishness both protects them from Spanish claims to sovereignty over ‘the Rock’ and contributes to the economic basis for their own effective (if not legal) sovereignty.

From the Remains of Empire imports the concepts of “reclamation” and “upcycling” and adapts them to the field of heritage both to resolve the stalemate of today’s heritage wars, and to provide a conceptual frame through which to understand Gibraltarian heritage practices. Innovatively bringing together the literature on heritage futures (Harrison 2020) and diplomatic assemblages (Dittmer 2017), we analyse how these practices and their effects through four work packages that answer the following research questions:

  1. How are Gibraltarian heritage enthusiasts and everyday Gibraltarians reclaiming and upcycling British colonial heritage to produce new heritage that legitimates Gibraltarian nationhood and effective sovereignty?
  2. How do foreign visitors experience and interpret encounters with Gibraltarian heritage sites?
  3. How can the concepts of reclamation and upcycling move academic and policy debates about British colonial heritage past the preserve/remove binary?
  4. How can heritage policy in Gibraltar draw more effectively on processes of reclaiming and upcycling in its management of British colonial heritage resources?

Our four work package are:

WP1: Genealogies of Gibraltarian Heritage: tracing the emergence of heritage as an object of governance in Gibraltar;
WP2: An Ethnography of Gibraltarian Heritage Enthusiasts: examining how Gibraltarian heritage enthusiasts reclaim and upcycle British colonial heritage to produce something simultaneously old and new;
WP3: A Tourism Analysis: understanding how tourists experience Gibraltar’s heritage sites, and how open they are to those sites’ further reclamation and upcycling;
WP4: Community Heritage Archive and Mapping: creating a ‘community archive’ of Gibraltar’s heritage via a diversity of media capable of capturing different forms of attachment to heritage sites, both well-known and newly emerging.

Sustainable Development Goal/s: