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Assessing the Decolonization of Cultural Heritage Policy in Belize through the Analysis of Narratives Presented at Colonial Sites

Ericksen, Rachel

In 1981, after three centuries of colonial dominance, the country of Belize officially became a sovereign nation. Almost 40 years later the country is still working to overcome the lingering effects of colonialism. This is evident in Belize’s focus on creating a new national identity for the country. They seek to achieve this through the development of their cultural heritage, as expressed in their 2016 National Cultural Policy. When cultural policy is decolonized, free of the influence of the colonizer, the values of Belizeans will drive the creation of a national identity. Decolonization occurs politically, when an official act separates the colonized from the colonizer. It also occurs intellectually, through a process where a peoples’ thoughts, ideas and values are detangled from those of the colonizer and are free from the colonizer’s influence.

This thesis will assess the extent to which Belize has intellectually decolonized its cultural heritage policy. This task will be accomplished by tracing Belize’s history from the colonial era to the present day to grasp the full range of its heritage answering what are the dominant historical narratives? What must be decentered for heritage to be fully inclusive? Then, an analysis of Belize’s cultural heritage policies is driven by the following metrics: heritage typologies, definitions, key actors, publics acknowledged, uses of heritage and institutional capacity building. These metrics expose how over time the policies increase their capacity to support a more inclusive heritage capable of decentering the dominant historical narrative representative of an intellectually decolonizing policy.

Finally, policy is not stagnant and requires action to carry out and achieve its goals. Understanding how these intellectually decolonizing policies play out in the real world is a crucial way to judge the true extent of their power. One way to achieve this is by interpreting the narratives represented at two colonial heritage sites. Interpretation involves a narrative analysis where the plain words and images of the narratives are broken down to understand the narrative’s purposes and effects and the extent to which it reflects an intellectually decolonized cultural heritage policy. These individual site narratives contribute to the larger heritage story in Belize and thus provide a basis for understanding how heritage, policy and intellectual decolonization play out in the wider Belizean heritage realm, the preservation field at large, and how far Belize has come in reclaiming its identity.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 2, 2021