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Who Owns Up to the Past? Heritage and Historical Injustice


‘Heritage’ is a concept that often carries significant normative weight in moral and political argument. In this article, I present and critique a prevalent conception according to which heritage must have a positive valence. I argue that this view of heritage leads to two moral problems: disowning injustice and embracing injustice. In response, I argue for an alternative conception of heritage that promises superior moral and political consequences. In particular, this alternative jettisons the traditional focus on heritage as a primarily positive relationship to the past and thus offers resources for coming to terms with histories of injustice.

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Thanks to audiences at the University of Connecticut, Connecticut College and the 2015 Lehigh University conference ‘Metaphors in Use’ for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks also to Laurajane Smith, Peter Lindsay, and three anonymous referees for this journal. Thanks always to Jackie Hatala Matthes.

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