Emotional Heritage: Visitor Engagement at Museums and Heritage Sites

Author/editor: Laurajane Smith
Publisher: Routledge
Year published: 2021


Emotional Heritage brings the issues of affect and power in the theorisation of heritage to the fore, whilst also highlighting the affective and political consequences of heritage-making.

Drawing on interviews with visitors to museums and heritage sites in the United States, Australia and England, Smith argues that obtaining insights into how visitors use such sites enables us to understand the impact and consequences of professional heritage and museological practices. The concept of registers of engagement is introduced to assess variations in how visitors use museums and sites that address national or dissonant histories and the political consequences of their use. Visitors are revealed as agents in the roles cultural institutions play in maintaining or challenging the political and social status quo. Heritage is, Smith argues, about people and their social situatedness and the meaning they, alongside or in concert with cultural institutions, make and mobilise to help them address social problems and expressions of identity and sense of place in and for the present.

Academics, students and practitioners interested in theories of power and affect in museums and heritage sites will find Emotional Heritage to be an invaluable resource. Helping professionals to understand the potential impact of their practice, the book also provides insights into the role visitors play in the interplay between heritage and politics.


‘Based on a massive amount of empirical research – conducted across continents and years – this ambitious book is a major contribution to heritage debates. Written with verve and clarity, its importance goes far beyond its crucial message that we need to take the emotional dimensions of heritage seriously. In Emotional Heritage, Laurajane Smith not only presents this groundbreaking project but also robustly sets out her analytical stall and manifesto for heritage studies.’

Sharon Macdonald, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

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