History Importance in a Heritage Study
Heritage comprises those things which we value and want to pass from one generation to the next.
Assessment of heritage significance is multidisciplinary. It includes an investigation of history, geography, community esteem and aesthetic quality, as well as research and educational potential.
What is Historical Significance?
Most people think the term ‘historical significance” refers only to the age of the item, place, or structure. Most people feel the older it is, the more historic it is, but the use of age is not the only determining factor in determining item’s, place’s, or structure’s historical significance.
It is important for an analysis of historical significance that a heritage item, place, or structure, documents its history. Documentation includes more than the traditional way of documenting historical significance of an item, place, or structure, but it also includes the oral stories associated with it.
The important thing to remember when reading written things from the past, it often has a bias point of view, like in newspapers, books, and articles, which will often have prejudice attitude against any non Euro-Canadian group, therefore, information contained in these sources can be misleading to an inexperienced historical researcher. It will take time to develop a keen eye to be able to glean the kernel of truths contained in these documents.
When doing this type of research there are two terms that are commonly used: primary and secondary sources.
- Primary and Secondary Sources
- Primary sources are original documents from the period like:
- Oral accounts
- Family bibles
Primary sources tend to be more reliable than secondary sources. Secondary sources are often articles written on the subject in journals/magazines, newspapers and books, and offer broader perspective on a topic.
It is these primary sources of information of Métis heritage LRI is attempting to identify and collect and protect for future generations, before it disappears forever.
What is a Heritage Study?
The study explains why the items, places or structures are significant and recommends ways of managing and conserving them. It provides communities with a sense of identity. It provides information to support the future management of heritage items, structures, or places. It provides information for education sessions for the community as a whole so all can better understand and appreciate heritage significance of an item, structure, or place. It enlightens people to possible uses of the heritage item, structure or place, for instance, to further tourism and education in their area. Most importantly, it gives a community a sense of ownership of its heritage. The Heritage Study process should include historians from the local area and from the provincial universities willing to work on the project, in collaboration with the community. You need both historians in order to present the best historical information related to the heritage item, place or structure.
Thematic history is a method of researching and writing that is most useful to heritage work. One must remember themes are not strictly chronological. They are often not neatly divided into distinct decades or years.
What should we include in a thematic history study?
The history should include some description of both the physical elements (former and existing) and the systems or processes of the place or thing.
A context for the item should be explained (e.g. How the item was used – for example fur stretcher – how it was made and used by Métis fur trapper and ranchers.)
Similar types of items should be identified to allow for some comparison (e.g. fiddle compared to other fiddles, a sash compared other sashes) in order to record similarities and differences.
One would be reasonable to predict that in one fur trader’s post one would find similar structure and items in it. If the prediction does not hold true then explain why the item does not hold true to ones expectations. This allows us to identify the uniqueness of item, place or structure.
A place, structure, item, or area must be able to demonstrate, in the surviving physical fabric, the historical themes claimed to be significant. What unique details about an item contributes to significance of Métis heritage, for instance home made violins made by a Métis person.
The difficult task of showing significant historical/cultural connection to a person or group of people of historical significance. ( e.g. An item like a piece of clothing belonging to Riel would have more historical significance than one belonging to an average Métis man, unless one could show something unique about it, like the way it was decorated.)
What are Historical Themes?
A historical theme is a way of describing a major force or process which has contributed to Métis history. For example, Métis involvement in the fur trade contributed greatly to the Métis identity. Historical themes provide a context within which the heritage significance of an item, place or structure can be understood, assessed and compared. Themes help to explain why an item exists, how it was changed and how it relates to other items linked by the theme. As a theme can unite a variety of actions, events functioned people and dates, it helps to prevent any concentration on a particular type of item, period or event of history during the investigation process of the heritage study. Themes could be specific to a local area or a region; or it could reflect a function. The identification of historical themes is an ongoing process. Themes that commonly occur in history are listed below.
- First Nation and European contact: e.g. trade & war agreements, resistance and intermarriages
- Fur trade
- Land tenure: e.g. Métis lots, scrip
- Harvesting fish, furs, and food
- Environment: the natural resources used by the Métis
- Migration patterns
- Ethnic influences
- Transportation: river, water, rail, road/trails
- Labour: how Métis made a living
- Communication: use by the Métis
- Technology used by the Métis e.g. Red River cart, steam boats, ferries
- Social structure
- Persons: individuals, families, residence, birthplace
How are historical context reports and themes used?
A historical context report identifies and explains the major factors and processes, expressed as historical themes that have influenced the history of an area. The primary objective of a report is to provide a framework to investigate and identify heritage items. It is not intended to be a detailed account of all aspects of the history of an item, place, or structure, or to replace histories designed to serve other purposes.
A historical context report, if used in combination with information about the physical evidence of a place, can suggest areas requiring more detailed historical research. The use of major themes can draw attention to gaps in existing histories which could lead to an incomplete assessment, study, register or list.
Themes guide judgments about what types of heritage items might exist on a site or in an area, and what expert assistance might be required to assess their heritage significance.
How historical themes are used to assess significance?
The historical significance of an item, place or structure can be assessed by checking whether it physically demonstrates any of the historical themes which had helped to shape the area in which the item, place or structure is located. The themes can be use to consider how the item demonstrates or achieves other heritage values such as educational potential. The historical themes may give indications as to why the Métis community holds an item, place or structure in high esteem.
To consider an item in its historical context, it is important to identify the links between information known from historical sources such as documents, and physical evidence associated with item, place or structure.