Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Saur October 1, 2015

Why Preserve? An Analysis of Preservation Discourses

André Schüller-Zwierlein


The greatest risk in preservation is lack of motivation. Why we should be in need of preservation at all, why we should need the enduring access to information, is far from agreed upon. Correspondingly, preservation institutions are continually in danger. Thus one of the most important functions of institutions is to survive. The public motivation of preservation is one of the foremost tasks of preservation institutions. It is important to analyze the pros and cons of some of the most popular current motivational discourses – those based on the terms cultural treasures, cultural heritage, and cultural memory – and examine the lesser known but more effective alternatives such as intergenerational justice, tradition as an ongoing conversation, and keeping the present accessible. In doing that, the article addresses fundamental questions concerning the function, the raison d’ȇtre, of libraries and archives. The paper concludes with a proposition for further research.

“Give me one good reason That I should care”

(Eagle-Eye Cherry, “One Good Reason,” 2000)


This article is an expanded version of my and Michael Hollmann’s epilogue to the volume Diachrone Zugänglichkeit als Prozess (2014). I would like to thank Cornelius Holtorf for his incisive and very helpful comments.


Albert, Marie-Theres, Roland Bernecker, and Britta Rudolff, eds. Understanding Heritage: Perspectives in Heritage Studies. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013.10.1515/9783110308389Search in Google Scholar

Albert, Marie-Theres, and Birgitta Ringbeck. 40 Jahre Welterbekonvention: Zur Popularisierung eines Schutzkonzeptes von Kultur- und Naturgütern. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Appiah, Kwame A. The Ethics of Identity. Kindle eBook. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007.Search in Google Scholar

Aronsson, Peter, and Gabriella Elgenius, eds. National Museums and Nation-Building in Europe, 1750–2010. London: Routledge, 2014.10.4324/9781315737133Search in Google Scholar

Assmann, Aleida. Erinnerungsräume: Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses. 5th ed. Munich: Beck, 2010.Search in Google Scholar

– . “Soziales und kollektives Gedächtnis.” 2006, in Google Scholar

Assmann, Jan. Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in den frühen Hochkulturen. 7th ed. Munich: Beck, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Augé, Marc. Les Formes de l’oubli. Paris: Rivages, 2001.Search in Google Scholar

Babelon, Jean-Pierre, and André Chastel. La Notion du patrimoine. Paris: Liana Levi, 1994.Search in Google Scholar

Barry, Brian. “Justice between Generations.” In Law, Morality and Society. Essays in Honour of H. L. A. Hart. Ed. by Peter M. S. Hacker, and Joseph Raz, 268–284. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.Search in Google Scholar

Barthel, Diane. Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity. Kindle eBook. Rutgers, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1996.Search in Google Scholar

Bavarian State Library. Lebendiges Büchererbe: Säkularisation, Mediatisierung und die Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Munich: Bavarian State Library, 2003.Search in Google Scholar

Benjamin, Walter. Das Passagen-Werk. Ed. by Rolf Tiedemann. 2 vols. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp, 1991 (Gesammelte Schriften V, 1 & 2).Search in Google Scholar

Biehl, Peter F., Douglas C. Corner, Christopher Prescott, and Hilary A. Soderland, eds. Identity and Heritage. New York: Springer, 2015.10.1007/978-3-319-09689-6Search in Google Scholar

Brand, Stewart. The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. New York: Basic Books, 1999.Search in Google Scholar

Brandom, Robert B. Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.Search in Google Scholar

– . Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.Search in Google Scholar

– . Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Brighouse, Harry and Robeyns, Ingrid, eds. Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.10.1017/CBO9780511810916Search in Google Scholar

Brown Weiss, Edith. In Fairness to Future Generations: International Law, Common Patrimony, and Intergenerational Equity. Tokyo: United Nations University and Transnational Publishers, 1989.Search in Google Scholar

Butzer, Günter, and Manuela Günter, eds. Kulturelles Vergessen: Medien – Rituale – Orte. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004.10.13109/9783666355806Search in Google Scholar

Cerbai, Ilaria, and Claudia Principe. BIBV: Bibliography of Historic Activity on Italian Volcanoes. Pisa: Istituto di geocronologia e geochimica isotopica, 1996.Search in Google Scholar

Chambers, Iain, Alessandra De Angelis, Celeste Ianniciello, Mariangela Orabona, and Michaela Quadraro, eds. The Postcolonial Museum: The Arts of Memory and the Pressures of History. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014.Search in Google Scholar

Choay, Françoise. L’Allégorie du patrimoine. 2nd ed. Paris: Seuil, 1999.Search in Google Scholar

Cloonan, Michele V. “The Moral Imperative to Preserve.” Library Trends 55 (Winter 2007): 746–55.10.1353/lib.2007.0003Search in Google Scholar

Debray, Régis. Introduction à la médiologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires Françaises, 2000.Search in Google Scholar

Erll, Astrid, and Ansgar Nünning, eds. A Companion to Cultural Memory Studies. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2010.Search in Google Scholar

Esposito, Elena. Soziales Vergessen: Formen und Medien des Gedächtnisses der Gesellschaft. Translated by A. Corti. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp, 2002.Search in Google Scholar

Fairclough, Graham, Rodney Harrison, John. H. Jameson Jr., and John Schofield, eds. The Heritage Reader. London: Routledge, 2007.Search in Google Scholar

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Wahrheit und Methode. 7th ed. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.Search in Google Scholar

– . Truth and Method. 2nd rev. ed. Translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer, and Donald G. Marshall. London: Continuum, 2004.Search in Google Scholar

– . “Die Unfähigkeit zum Gespräch.” In Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Wahrheit und Methode. Ergänzungen. Register. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1986, pp. 207–15.Search in Google Scholar

Gilbert, Paul. Cultural Identity and Political Ethics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623877.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Gippert, Jost, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel, eds. Essentials of Language Documentation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.10.1515/9783110197730Search in Google Scholar

Glade, Thomas, Paola Albini, and Félix Francés, eds. The Use of Historical Data in Natural Hazard Assessments. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001.10.1007/978-94-017-3490-5Search in Google Scholar

Gosseries, Axel, and Lukas H. Meyer, eds. Intergenerational Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199284238.003.0019Search in Google Scholar

Greenfield, Jeannette. The Return of Cultural Treasures. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Grice, Paul. Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.Search in Google Scholar

Guzzetti, Fausto, Francesco Cipolla, Oliviero Lolli, Stefania Pagliacci, Claudio Sebastiani, and Gabriele Tonelli. “Information System on historical landslides and floods in Italy.” Paper presented at the Urban Hazards Forum. John Jay College, CUNY, New York, 2002, in Google Scholar

Haddock, Adrian, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard, eds. Social Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577477.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Hamdi, Yasser, Lise Bardet, Claire-Marie Duluc, and Vincent Rebour. “Use of Historical Information in Extreme-surge Frequency Estimation: Case of the Marine Flooding on the La Rochelle Site in France.” Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 2 (2014), 5647–688, in Google Scholar

Harrison, Rodney. Heritage: Critical Approaches. London: Routledge, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Hewison, Robert. “Break-up of English Heritage ‘Shrinks Public Domain Further,’” The Art Newspaper 263 (2014): 10–11.Search in Google Scholar

– . The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline. London: Methuen, 1987.Search in Google Scholar

Höfer, Candida. Libraries. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.Search in Google Scholar

Hodder, Ian. Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things. New York: Wiley, 2012.10.1002/9781118241912Search in Google Scholar

Hollmann, Michael, and André Schüller-Zwierlein, eds. Diachrone Zugänglichkeit als Prozess: Kulturelle Überlieferung in systematischer Sicht. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.10.1515/9783110311846Search in Google Scholar

Holtorf, Cornelius, and Anders Högberg. “Contemporary Heritage and the Future.” In Emma Waterton, and Steve Watson, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 509–23.10.1057/9781137293565_32Search in Google Scholar

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialektik der Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente. Frankfurt / Main: Fischer, 1988.Search in Google Scholar

Innocenti, Perla, ed. Migrating Heritage: Experiences of Cultural Networks and Cultural Dialogue in Europe. London: Ashgate, 2014.Search in Google Scholar

Ireland, Tracy, and John Schofield, eds. The Ethics of Cultural Heritage. New York: Springer, 2015.10.1007/978-1-4939-1649-8Search in Google Scholar

Ishay, Micheline R. The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.Search in Google Scholar

Jeudy, Henri-Pierre. La Machinerie patrimoniale. Paris: Circé, 2008.Search in Google Scholar

Klimpel, Paul, and Jürgen Keiper, eds. Was bleibt? Nachhaltigkeit der Kultur in der digitalen Welt. Berlin: Internet & Gesellschaft Collaboratory e. V., 2013, in Google Scholar

Klironomos, Iosif, Margherita Antona, Ioannis Basdekis, and Constantine Stephanidis. “White Paper: Promoting Design for All and e-Accessibility in Europe.” Universal Access in the Information Society 5 (2006): 105–19.10.1007/s10209-006-0021-4Search in Google Scholar

Klüver, Henning. “Der schönste Hauptbahnhof der Welt.” Süddeutsche Zeitung 09. / 10. 2. 2013, 14.Search in Google Scholar

Kuhlen, Rainer. “Bausteine zur Entwicklung einer Wissensökologie – Plädoyer für eine nachhaltige Sicht auf den UN-Weltgipfel zur Informationsgesellschaft (WSIS).” 2002 See in Google Scholar

– . Informationsethik – Ethik in elektronischen Räumen. Konstanz: UVK, 2004.Search in Google Scholar

– . “Wissensökologie.” In Kuhlen, Rainer, Thomas Seeger, and Dietmar Strauch, eds. Grundlagen der praktischen Information und Dokumentation. 5th ed. 2 vols. München: Saur, 2004, Vol. 1, 105–13.Search in Google Scholar

Kunzru, Hari. Memory Palace. London: V&A Publishing, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Lackey, Jennifer. Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199219162.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

– , and Ernest Sosa, eds. The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.Search in Google Scholar

Lafont, Cristina. “Meaning and Interpretation: Can Brandomian Scorekeepers be Gadamerian Hermeneuts?” Philosophy Compass 3 (2008): 17–29.10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00112.xSearch in Google Scholar

Langenbacher, Eric, and Yossi Shain, eds. Power and the Past: Collective Memory and International Relations. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2010.Search in Google Scholar

Lievrouw, Leah A., and Sharon E. Farb. “Information and Equity.” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 37 (2003): 499–540.10.1002/aris.1440370112Search in Google Scholar

Lowenthal, David. The Past Is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.Search in Google Scholar

– . The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. Kindle eBook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Search in Google Scholar

MacDonald, Sharon. Memorylands: Heritage and Identity in Europe Today. London: Routledge, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

Margalit, Avishai. The Ethics of Memory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.10.4159/9780674040595Search in Google Scholar

Marstine, Janet C., ed. The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics. Redefining Ethics for the Twenty-First Century Museum. London: Routledge, 2011.10.4324/9780203815465Search in Google Scholar

Matilal, Bimal K., and Arindam Chakrabarti, eds. Knowing from Words. Western and Indian Philosophical Analysis of Understanding and Testimony. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994.10.1007/978-94-017-2018-2Search in Google Scholar

Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

McDowell, Sara, and Máire Braniff. Commemoration as Conflict: Space, Memory and Identity in Peace Processes. Kindle eBook. London: Palgrave, 2014.10.1057/9781137314857Search in Google Scholar

Melville, Gert, ed. Institutionen und Geschichte: theoretische Aspekte und Mittelalterliche Befunde. Köln: Böhlau, 1992.10.7788/boehlau.9783412315115Search in Google Scholar

Merklen, Denis. Pourquoi brûle-t-on des bibliothèques?: essai. Villeurbanne: Presses de l’Enssib, 2013.10.4000/books.pressesenssib.2128Search in Google Scholar

Millikan, Ruth. “Styles of Rationality.” 2006, See in Google Scholar

Moeschberger, Scott L., and Rebekah A. Phillips DeZalia, eds. Symbols that Bind, Symbols that Divide: The Semiotics of Peace and Conflict. Kindle eBook. New York: Springer, 2014.10.1007/978-3-319-05464-3Search in Google Scholar

Mohen, Jean-Pierre. Les Sciences du patrimoine: identifier, conserver, restaurer. Paris: Odile Jacob, 1999.Search in Google Scholar

Mulgan, Tim. Future People: A Moderate Consequentialist Account of our Obligations to Future Generations. Kindle eBook. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008.Search in Google Scholar

Muñoz Viñas, Salvador. Contemporary Theory of Conservation. London: Routledge, 2011.Search in Google Scholar

NDIIPP. Preserving Our Digital Heritage: The National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program 2010 Report. 2011, in Google Scholar

Nestor (2012): Leitfaden zur digitalen Bestandserhaltung. Version 2.0. Frankfurt / Main: nestor. See in Google Scholar

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen. Zweites Stück: Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben. In Nietzsche, Friedrich. Sämtliche Werke. Kritische Studienausgabe, Ed. by Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. 15 vols. Munich / Berlin: dtv / de Gruyter, 1999, Vol. 1, 243–334.Search in Google Scholar

Nora, Pierre. Les Lieux de mémoire. 3 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.Search in Google Scholar

Ost, François. “Du Contrat à la transmission: Le simultané et le succession.” Revue philosophique de Louvain 96 (1998): 453–75.10.2143/RPL.96.3.541898Search in Google Scholar

Payrastre, O., E. Gaume, and H. Andrieu. “Usefulness of Historical Information for Flood Frequency Analyses: Developments Based on a Case Study.” Water Resources Research 47 (2011), see in Google Scholar

Peralta, Elsa, and Marta Anico, eds. Heritage and Identity: Engagement and Demission in the Contemporary World. London: Routledge, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

Poulot, Dominique. Patrimoine et musées: L’Institution de la culture. Paris: Hachette, 2001.Search in Google Scholar

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Reprint of the Original Edition. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1971.10.4159/9780674042605Search in Google Scholar

Ricoeur, Paul. La Mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli. Paris: Seuil, 2003.Search in Google Scholar

Robertson-von Trotha, Caroline Y., and Robert Hauser, eds. Neues Erbe: Aspekte, Perspektiven und Konsequenzen der digitalen Überlieferung. Karlsruhe: KIT Scientific Publishing, 2011, in Google Scholar

Salvati, Paola, Ivan Marchesini, Vinicio Balducci, Cinzia Bianchi, and Fausto Guzzetti. “A New Digital Catalogue of Harmful Landslides and Floods in Italy.” In Claudio Margottini, Paolo Canuti, and Kyoji Sassa, eds. Landslide Science and Practice. New York: Springer, 2013, Vol. 3, 409–14.10.1007/978-3-642-31310-3_56Search in Google Scholar

Sandell, Richard, and Eithne Nightingale, eds. Museums, Equality and Social Justice. London: Routledge, 2012.10.4324/9780203120057Search in Google Scholar

Sandis, Constantine, ed. Cultural Heritage Ethics: Between Theory and Practice. Kindle eBook. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014.Search in Google Scholar

Schiffer, Michael B. Formation Processes of the Archaeological Record. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1996.Search in Google Scholar

Schnepel, Burkhard, Felix Girke, and Eva-Maria Knoll, eds. Kultur all Inclusive: Identität, Tradition und Kulturerbe im Zeitalter des Massentourismus. Bielefeld: transcript, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Schüller-Zwierlein, André, and Nicole Zillien, eds. Informationsgerechtigkeit: Theorie und Praxis der gesellschaftlichen Informationsversorgung. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012.10.1515/9783110258851Search in Google Scholar

Sen, Amartya. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. Kindle eBook. New York: Norton, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

– . The Idea of Justice. London: Allen Lane, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

Shaw, Garry. “Egypt Reopens Tomb as Tourism Falls.” The Art Newspaper 24.263 (December 2014): 39.Search in Google Scholar

Silverman, Helaine, and D. Fairchild Ruggles, eds. Cultural Heritage and Human Rights. Kindle eBook. New York: Springer, 2007.10.1007/978-0-387-71313-7Search in Google Scholar

Smith, Abby. “Valuing Preservation.” Library Trends 56 (2007): 4–25.10.1353/lib.2007.0059Search in Google Scholar

– . “In Support of Long-Term Access.” In CLIR. Access in the Future Tense, 55–72. Washington: Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), 2004, See in Google Scholar

Smith, Laurajane. Uses of Heritage. London: Routledge, 2006.10.4324/9780203602263Search in Google Scholar

Sperber, Dan, and Deirdre Wilson. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.Search in Google Scholar

Taylor, Joel. “Intergenerational Justice: A Useful Perspective for Heritage Conservation.” CeROArt, 2013, in Google Scholar

Todorov, Tzvetan. Les Abus de la mémoire. Paris: Arléa, 2004.Search in Google Scholar

Tomasello, Michael. Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book / The MIT Press, 2010.Search in Google Scholar

Tremmel, Joerg C., ed. Handbook of Intergenerational Justice. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2006.10.4337/9781847201850Search in Google Scholar

UNESCO. Memory of the World: Documents That Define Human History and Heritage. London: Collins, 2012.Search in Google Scholar

– . UNESCO Information for All Programme: National Information Society Policy: A Template. Paris: UNESCO, 2009, in Google Scholar

Unwin, Tim, ed. ICT4D: Information and Communication Technology for Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

Van Beurden, Jos. The Return of Cultural and Historical Treasures: The Case of the Netherlands. Amsterdam: KIT, 2012.Search in Google Scholar

van den Hoven, Jeroen, and John Weckert, eds. Information Technology and Moral Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.Search in Google Scholar

van Dijk, Jan A. G. M. The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society. London: Sage, 2005.Search in Google Scholar

Ward, Darren F. “More Than Just Records: Analysing Natural History Collections for Biodiversity Planning.” PLoS ONE 7 (2012): e50346, doi:10.1371 / journal.pone.0050346.Search in Google Scholar

Weber, Karsten. Das Recht auf Informationszugang: Begründungsmuster der politischen Philosophie für informationelle Grundversorgung und Eingriffsfreiheit. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2005.Search in Google Scholar

Wehrlin, Marc. Memopolitik. Eine Politik des Bundes zu den Gedächtnissen der Schweiz. Bericht des Bundesamtes für Kultur. Bern: Bundesamt für Kultur, Eidgenössisches Departement des Innern, 2008,,lnp6I0NTU042l2Z6ln1acy4Zn4Z2qZpnO2Yuq2Z6gpJCDeIR_f2ym162epYbg2c_JjKbNoKSn6A--.Search in Google Scholar

Willer, Stefan, Sigrid Weigel, and Bernhard Jussen, eds. Erbe: Übertragungskonzepte zwischen Natur und Kultur. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2013.Search in Google Scholar

Wilson, Deirdre, and Dan Sperber. Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.10.1017/CBO9781139028370Search in Google Scholar

WSIS. Charta der Bürgerrechte für eine nachhaltige Wissensgesellschaft. 2003, in Google Scholar

Zillien, Nicole. Digitale Ungleichheit: Neue Technologien und alte Ungleichheiten in der Informations- und Wissensgesellschaft. 2nd ed. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2009.10.1007/978-3-531-91493-0Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2015-10-1
Published in Print: 2015-10-1

© 2015 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston