What cultural heritage do we leave behind and to what benefit for people in the future? Established in 2017, the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures provides tools for creative and critical futures thinking.
- Which future or futures do we preserve the heritage for?
- Which heritage will help future generations solve important challenges?
- How can we develop futures thinking (and futures literacy) among heritage professionals worldwide?
The book “Cultural Heritage and the Future” (edited together with Anders Högberg and published in 2021 by Routledge) is one outcome of the Chair’s work.
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The UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures contributes to the development of socially, ecologically, economically and culturally sustainable societies for future generations. Member of the Climate Heritage Network.
Why Heritage Futures matter
Heritage futures are concerned with the roles of heritage in managing the relations between present and future societies, e.g. through anticipation, planning, and prefiguration.
As we move into the future, the biggest challenge of sustainable heritage management is how to make heritage absorb changes while continuing to provide benefits for human societies. The most important question of conservation is therefore not how much heritage of any one period may or may not survive intact into the future but what historical legacy, which we construct and leave behind, will come to benefit future generations the most.
Animation: What are Heritage Futures and why do they matter?
Cultural heritage reminds us of the past and has present values and uses, but how will future generations benefit from it? – This short animation explains the need for futures thinking among cultural heritage professionals.
Interview with Cornelius Holtorf, chairholder
Why are Heritage Futures important today?
"You can often read or hear that our heritage is to be preserved for the benefit of future generations. That is why heritage is being cared for and protected. But the heritage we preserve will only benefit future generations if it will meet their needs. That is why it is important to ask about how we conceive of the future in heritage management and how we can best ensure that future generations will appreciate what we leave behind for them."
How do the activities of the Chair respond to current challenges in society?
"The concept and practices of heritage as we know them today have developed over the past two hundred years and are firmly associated with the idea of the modern nation. A nation's people were assumed to share not only a territory and a distinct culture but also a joint origin and history. In recent decades, a heritage industry has grown that exploits a widespread popularity for edutainment and cultural tourism. The Chair will support international heritage practitioners in developing professional strategies for the future. How can heritage address the challenges of specific societies as the idea of unified national identities is no longer unproblematic? How can heritage benefit communities beyond commodification?"
How does the Chair open up new possibilities to address these challenges?
"A UNESCO Chair is funded partly by the home University and partly by external resources, as is the case with all research. In addition, the UNESCO brand can possibly open some doors and may mean that other parties are a little extra interested in what we do. We are going to create awareness and capacity for heritage practitioners around the world to address for themselves how heritage will benefit the future. In particular, we will be developing training courses, organize workshops and conference sessions, collaborate with UNESCO and other relevant bodies, as well as publish academic works in this field."
What are your expectations for the Chair? What do you hope to achieve?
"I want heritage to develop its potential to make positive contributions to the development of society. I hope to contribute to the emergence of circles in which international practitioners from different fields and domains constructively collaborate around the idea of 'applied heritage", i.e. where preserving heritage becomes a means rather than an end."
How do you plan to advance collaborations in society between research, practice and policy?
"I believe that any successful collaboration requires an ability to leave all prestige behind, a willingness to listen to each other, generosity towards those you meet, and a genuine interest in contributing to achieving the collaborators' aims – by all those participating."
Describe a few milestones in your life and career that led you where you are today.
"I grew up and read prehistoric archaeology in Germany. At age 25 I moved to Wales in the UK to conduct research and five years later I began my career that included positions at Universities in England and Sweden, as well as a couple of years at the Swedish National Heritage Board. I decided early on to develop my own ideas of archaeology and why it mattered in society, and this principle has really served me very well over the years. I have always been interested in writing, which has helped too. I am fluent in German, English and Swedish. In recent years, I have been introduced to the work of ICOMOS and UNESCO but I fear that I am not fully fluent in their language yet..."
How did you become interested in the topic of heritage futures?
"About fifteen years ago I read a wonderful book by Gregory Benford entitled "Deep Time" (from 1999). The various chapters in this book very much inspired how I have come to think about the close links between archaeology (which is my academic background) and the long-term future. Archaeologists are experts in taking care of and interpreting material objects that often have travelled across long distances in time – it is surprising that not more archaeologists have been applying their skills to the future really."
What is most exciting aspect of the Chair? What are you most looking forward to?
"I am most looking forward to collaborate with generous people in different fields of practice and to learn more from the experience and knowledge of colleagues around the world. It is exciting that I can do this from my base in a small city where I work at a relatively new University in the middle of the Swedish countryside right at the Baltic Sea."
Dr Emily Hanscam, Researcher at Linnaeus University. Her projects apply techniques from the digital humanities to explore ongoing entanglements between nationalism and archaeological discourse, working towards developing a better critical understanding of the past for negotiating the global future.
Dr Anders Högberg, Professor of Archaeology at Linnaeus University. Special fields of interest are heritage studies and human cognitive evolution.
Dr Sarah May, Affiliated Researcher at Linnaeus University. She is currently working as an heritage consultant. She is particularly interested in the way children are used in future discourse.
Dr Leila Papoli-Yazdi, Affiliated Researcher at Linnaeus University. She researches the dirty heritage of modern civilization; garbage, waste, and consumption — particularly to develop novel methods towards environmental and social sustainability in the future.
Dr Claudio Pescatore, Affiliated Researcher at Linnaeus University. A nuclear engineer, previously at the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD, special field of interest is the preservation of memory.
Helena Rydén, Assistant to the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures.
Ulrika Söderström, Ph D student at Linnaeus University, is in the final stages of her doctoral research investigating how futures are created in modern urban planning and development using cultural heritage as a resource and the consequences these practices can have on social sustainability.
Dr Gustav Wollentz, Affiliated Researcher at Linnaeus University. He works at NCK, The Nordic Centre of Heritage Learning and Creativity, and is a consultant for ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) with focus specifically on foresight, which includes a range of methods and practices to work towards the future.
Available (issuu) here
The Future of the Past Starts Now: free training resources:
1. The basic idea explained for everybody
Understand why futures thinking matters for cultural heritage management. (2 min animation, English with subtitles, 2022)
Holtorf, C. (2022) To adapt to a changing world, heritage conservation needs to look toward the future. The Conversation, 20 September 2022, https://theconversation.com/to-adapt-to-a-changing-world-heritage-conservation-needs-to-look-toward-the-future-190468
2. Find out more about heritage and multiple futures
Ulrikke Voss meets UNESCO Chairholder Cornelius Holtorf and wonders what ‘heritage futures’ means for heritage practice (16 min walk’n’talk in Kalmar, English, 2020)
Holtorf, C. and A. Högberg (2022) “Why cultural heritage needs foresight.” Heritage for the Future, Science for Heritage. Paris. https://www.heritageresearch-hub.eu/app/uploads/2022/05/HOLTORF_Hogberg.pdf
3. Exploring issues of heritage futures for heritage management
A Q&A with Britta Rudolff, exploring and explaining ‘heritage futures’ for Masters students in Heritage Site Management (27 min, 2021, English)
Holtorf, C. and Bolin, A. (2022), "Heritage futures: A conversation", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCHMSD-09-2021-0156
4. Theorising about heritage and resilience for the future
Carl Folke discusses various understandings of resilience, emphasizing the significance of development and change. Resilience is about the capacity to live with change, accepting complexity and uncertainty, anticipating new solutions for the future, combining persistence and renewal. (Video lecture, 8 min, 2018, English)
REFLECT: Can heritage contribute to strengthening resilience in human societies during the Anthropocene?
5. A high school class in Kalmar travels 50 years into the future …
In a pedagogical role-play arranged by Kalmar County Museum, the pupils came to face high sea levels, flooding, and large social challenges. Taking some tough decisions made them see their own future in a new light.
(film 5 min, Swedish. For English subtitles, click on “CC” and then choose “English Subtitles”. You can increase the size of the text by clicking on “CC” and then choosing “Options”)
6. Applying heritage approaches to radioactive waste storage
Nuclear waste repositories provide a powerful case for heritage specialists to think about the impact of their work in the long-term. The Heritage Futures project invited a group of archivists, artists, curators, policy makers and researchers to Sweden to share reflections about long-term communication and conservation in the context of planned nuclear waste storage. (Gifts to the Future, Episode 1, 10min, English, 2016) https://vimeo.com/178724619
Nuclear agencies are searching for the signs, language and solutions that will warn our descendants to stay away. Nuclear waste: Keep out for 100,000 years. Financial Times 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/db87c16c-4947-11e6-b387-64ab0a67014c
7. Long-term thinking and acting
This BBC podcast by Helen Keen explores how we best plan for and protect our distant descendants. (28 min, 2018, English)
- Constructing a space message. A Portrait of Humanity, by Jon Lomberg. https://www.jonlomberg.com/articles/a_portrait_of_humanity.html (2007)
- Safeguarding the Memory of Mankind. Webpages of a long-term project https://www.memory-of-mankind.com/
REFLECT: What if anything can we, should we, or must we pass on to future generations? How?
8. Professional training on futures thinking
Loes Damhof explains Future(s) Literacy (5 min, 2016, English)
This presentation helps you ask some key questions yourself: What assumptions are you making about the future? Are there alternative futures? How can you ask new questions about the present based on reflections about those assumptions and the future you would like to see?
Dator, Alternative Futures at the Manoa School 2009 https://jfsdigital.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/142-A01.pdf
Are you familiar with the UNESCO 1997 Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations? http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13178&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html
More Training Resources
Lecture/film: What are Heritage Futures?
Cornelius Holtorf, Professor of Archaeology and holder of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University gives a lecture on 'Heritage Futures'. The film is part of an exhibition called 'Knowledge Cube' at Linnaeus University. It is shown at both university campuses Växjö and Kalmar in Sweden during 2022. There is an animation related to the lecture/film and available on YouTube as well: What are Heritage Futures and why do they matter?
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Wow! The Future is calling!
Wow! The Future is calling! is a picture book by illustrator Pernilla Frid and Cornelius Holtorf. The content is coming out of Cornelius Holtorf’s longstanding research at the interface of heritage and the future. The point is to convey the variety and richness in which we can engage with the future. The book gives many examples, both in the way the main characters act, representing three different ways of relating to the future, and in the many details, which surround them. Available (issuu) here
What is a UNESCO Chair?
The UNESCO Chairs Programme involves over 700 institutions in more than 100 countries. Through this network, higher education and research institutions all over the globe pool their resources, both human and material, to address pressing challenges and contribute to societal development.
The Chairs serve as thinktanks and bridgebuilders between academia, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making.