Juan Carlos Barrientos García

Short bio

  • born 1987 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 
  • since 2022 Research assistant at the DFG Research Training Group 2227 “Identity and Heritage”, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar 
  • since 2020 coordinator for the education programme at European Heritage Volunteers / Open Houses e.V., part of UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers Initiative in Germany.
  • 2019 – 2020 Legal Intern at the Environmental Law Center (ELC) of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
  • 2019 Postgraduate programme in International Nature Conservation at the International Academy for Nature Conservation (INA) of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)
  • 2017 – 2019 Master’s degree in World Heritage Studies at Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU), thesis topic: “The Legal Concept of State Sovereignty in Relation to the Effectiveness in the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention”
  • 2008 – 2015 Law graduate with specialisation in international law from Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana (UNITEC) in Tegucigalpa
  • 2014 – 2016 Member of the Board of Trustees / Coordinator of the National Volunteer Programme for the International Youth Cultural Exchange Programme – ICYE Honduras


Bauhaus-Universität Weimar
Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism
DFG Research Group 2227 “Identity and Heritage”
D-99421 Weimar

Seat: Marienstraße 9 | D-99423 Weimar


Heritage appropriation and the creation of a national identity in a post-colonial society 

Case study: Honduras and its appropriation of indigenous material and immaterial heritage to create a national identity

Juan Carlos Barrientos Garcia, M.A. World Heritage Studies

The study will aim to understand, interpret and explain the results of a complex historical progression that led to the forging of Honduras’ modern national identity, exalted by monuments, reflected in urban public spaces, museum exhibitions and even featuring as architectural motifs in modern edifices. The research will be rooted on previous studies by Honduran scholars on the topic. It will critically analyse how the national identity of Honduras is based on the mythification of its indigenous pre- colonial past and founded upon the appropriation of cultural elements from the material as well as the immaterial indigenous heritage in order to fabricate a common nationalist narrative to unify this new nation state. As an intended objective of this research, several questions will be raised and discussed regarding how to deal with this complicated construction of a national heritage identity as a fait accompli in modern Honduras, and how to reconcile this case with the modern views on heritage, indigenous rights and identity studies.

The process to forge the narrative that forms the core of Honduras’ national identity today was gradual. It peaked and intensified in the 1930’s and 1940s during the dictatorship of the Nationalist Party of Honduras led by General Tiburcio Carías Andino (1933 until 1949). The policies and approach to history of his regime, created a vision of a nation state where all its numerous ethnicities, ideological parties and distinct communities were able to trace their pasts to a ‘glorious’ ancestry materialised in the archaeological remnants of the Mayan civilisation in western Honduras. A process Dario A. Euraque called the Mayanisation of Honduras. In addition, a mythical hero figure was also created to fit the role of personifying the spirit of this common inheritance based on the story of Lempira, who was an actual historical chieftain of the Lenca that fought the Spanish invasion in the 16th century.

This fanciful new history was implanted into the academic curriculum of the educational system, and was echoed by writers and artists of the time, eventually even finding its way into the public spaces through monuments, architectural motifs and sculptures throughout the cities in the country. This nationalistic wave that transformed the perception of Hondurans about their own history, led to a process of cultural homogenisation amongst most members of the national community, while failing to acknowledge and empower the indigenous minorities existing in the country whose identity was used or misrepresented in order to create a historical façade for the state.

The idea of a common heritage for all racial groups represented in the Honduran nation laid deep roots in the ethos of the country for the next decades until the present day. Some authors attribute to this homogenisation of the national identity the circumstance that Honduras’ does not exhibit a prevalent racial tension between ethnicities in the country. Others point out that the homogenisation process erased from the national discourse the presence of the distinct existing indigenous minorities alongside their dying cultural traditions. The focus on the Mayan element, on the other hand, may have had a discouraging effect in the advancement of academic, archaeological and scientific research on the other non-Mayan cultures still existing and widespread within the geography of the country. 

The resulting situation in modern times definitely poses a paradox, where the majority of the Honduran population praise their indigenous cultural ancestry while at the same time the modern indigenous populations remain marginalised from political discourse and the cultural identity discourse. However, this paradox may be the key to reconciling the national community of the modern nation with these indigenous minorities whose misrepresented heritage served to create a national identity. 

More academic perspectives into this topic are especially important today, at the end of a period of political oppression in Honduras during the second decade of the 21st century, a time when a nascent indigenous right’s movement in Honduras had been subject of violent persecution for demanding their ancestral rights. 

A new ambient of political change is now signalling intentions within the national community and its political establishment to re-evaluate the relationship between Honduras and its indigenous groups. For this reason, it is an appropriate time to expand the study of this relationship through the lens of international academia.  This research would analyse and shed some light into the process of recognition of the indigenous communities’ rights and the preservation of their fragile cultural identity – a process that is still in its infancy. It will provide support to this ongoing process by helping build the theoretical framework for understanding how the indigenous minorities of Honduras can re-connect with their sequestered and distorted heritage. A heritage which has now become an essential element of identity for all Hondurans, present in the iconography of the country’s history, in its public spaces, and in the famed archaeological UNESCO World Heritage site that serves as an emblematic symbol of the Honduran national identity.

Despite the negative connotations that cultural nationalism and terms such as ‘cultural appropriation’ have in the present-day academic discourse and cultural heritage debates, this study would try to present an alternative perspective into these political interpretations of history – at least for the particular case of how this process developed in Honduras.

Current Publications

Reader – Heritage Conservation and Ideologies: “Analysis of a Difficult Heritage from an Ideology of Violence, the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg” p.152 – 165 Jan 2019, Brandenburgische Technische Universität Cottbus-Senftenberg IKMZ- Universitätsbibliothek © 2018 ISBN 978-3-940471-42-0

Good practices of volunteering for European cultural heritage: “Beyond the books and university halls: experiencing European heritage” p.57 – 59  Jan 2020, European Heritage Volunteers Programme, Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien · Federal Goverment Commissioner for Culture and Media · Berlin · Germany