- When is the future that such practices work towards?
- How can we determine what will benefit future generations?
- What is the legacy we will leave behind?
In 2017, Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden, was awarded a UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures. This is one of eight Chairs in Sweden, and the only one within the cultural sector. Cornelius Holtorf, holder of the UNESCO Chair, alongside a team will continue to generate ideas and work with heritage practitioners in finding answers to these questions and in developing their own professional strategies for the future.
You can read more about the Chair and keep track of activities on the Twitter feed: @UnescoChairLNU
Developing heritage with focus on the future
"Within the global cultural heritage sector, great emphasis is put on saving cultural heritage from destruction. We believe that we must broaden this perspective and create a better understanding of what heritage does under various circumstances. We will ask questions like why these historical objects are to be preserved for the future and which societal challenges they may help the people of the future solving."
Cornelius Holtorf, Professor of Archaeology, UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures.
Visiting the future
For the first time in the history of Kalmar Country Museum’s work with the time travel method, two groups of participants have been travelling to the year 2068, discussing future heritage and associated key questions about the present. This is one of a series of development projects commissioned by the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures.
There is a full report (in swedish) about the lessons learned, but also a short film documenting how a school class travelled to the future (and back). You can watch the film below.
What we do
It is often said that heritage is to be conserved for the benefit of future generations. The UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures investigates what this may mean in the context of the inherent uncertainty of the future on the one hand and practices associated with different kinds of heritage on the other hand. How is the future being made through the 1972 World Heritage Convention, reconstructions of lost heritage, final repositories of nuclear waste, or the design of a message for the New Horizons spacecraft? When are the futures these practices work towards? How can we best determine what will benefit relevant future generations? What is the actual legacy we will leave behind? The Chair will support heritage practitioners in finding answers to these questions and in developing their own professional strategies for the future.
Some research and related activities of the Chair are funded as part of the AHRC funded Heritage Futures project based at University College London and directed by Professor Rodney Harrison. This work concerns the question how the uncertainty of the future is conceptualised and managed in various heritage practices and how such practices might be improved by learning from each other. In addition, the Chair will conduct research on other relevant topics, develop a training course on heritage futures for heritage managers around the world, and collaborate in various ways with UNESCO and associated bodies on relevant programmes.
Who we are
Members of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures
Dr Cornelius Holtorf, Professor of Archaeology and holder of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University. Director of the Graduate School in Contract Archaeology (GRASCA).
Dr Anders Högberg, Professor of Archaeology at Linnaeus University. Special fields of interest are heritage studies and human cognitive evolution. Associated researcher in Heritage Futures, research on nuclear waste as future heritage.
Ulrika Söderström, PhD student at GRASCA – The Graduate School in Contract Archaeology at Linnaeus University. Special field of interest is use of heritage and archaeological knowledge in sustainable urban development.
Dr Claudio Pescatore, nuclear engineer, previously at the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD, special field of interest is the preservation of memory. Affiliated Researcher at Linnaeus University.
Dr Sarah May, based at University of Swansea, special field of interest is the way children are used in future discourse. Post-doctoral Research Associate in the Heritage Futures project.
Interview with Cornelius Holtorf
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."
More about UNESCO Chairs
What is a UNESCO Chair?
UNESCO Chairs were introduced by UNESCO in 1992. Their aim is to promote international cooperation between Universities and networking in key priority areas of UNESCO. There are today about 700 UNESCO Chairs in the world.