I spent Tuesday afternoon visiting Old Salem in North Carolina, a Moravian settlement dating back to 1766.

I am becoming ever more interested in the founding of America, the War of Independence and the Civil War. The myths derived from these are still alive, still forming the narratives from and to which many people here live. I am also looking for some decent books about these events – most of what I see on sale here is pretty loaded.

Old Salem is a wonderful place to visit. Not only is there an excellent Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, but the main settlement is arranged so that visitors can see something of what being an early Moravian settler meant in real (as opposed to romantic) terms. Having fled persecution in what is now the Czech Republic, the Moravians settled in Germany before spreading around the globe. Unlike the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Moravians developed in line with the world and did not seek to deny the reality of the wider world.

What is interesting about places like is, however, is how, over a period of time, what was a living community has become a heritage site. Today Old Salem keeps alive a glimpse of how a community settled, grew, changed and developed into what is still a living community now; but, it also turns that experience into a tourist attraction that then makes the living community dependent on this tourism – observational voyeurism as well as educational resource.

It begs the question as to whether one day the dynamic will reach a tipping point where the 'living' serves the 'heritage' rather than the other way round.

Old Salem isn't alone in this. The Amish are a strange example of the same thing: traditional people running buggy tours of their homeland in order to satisfy the curiosity of tourists whose lifestyle the Amish reject entirely – earning their money from the people whose life they deny. It is a strange paradox.

I loved my hours in Old Salem and I learned a good deal about the Moravians. But, the questions will not go away.