Today's heritage practitioners need the ability to understand and navigate in a world of uncertainty and fast change. There are multiple possible futures, and we build the future in our minds and with our actions today. Established in 2017, the UNESCO Chair 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?
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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.
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 Annalisa Bolin, Postdoctoral Fellow at Linnaeus University. She conducts research on the international politics of heritage repatriation from Germany to Rwanda—with a focus on the uses of heritage in decolonization and developing new futures for Global South nations.
Dr Anders Högberg, Professor of Archaeology at Linnaeus University. Special fields of interest are heritage studies and human cognitive evolution.
Dr Sarah May, Senior Lecturer in Public History and Heritage at Swansea University. She is particularly interested in the way children are used in future discourse.
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.
Helena Rydén, Assistant to the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures.
Ulrika Söderström, PhD student at GRASCA – the Graduate School in Contract Archaeology at Linnaeus University. Her research interest is the use of heritage and archaeological knowledge in sustainable urban development.
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A time travel to the future
In collaboration with the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, Kalmar County Museum developed time travels to the future. Click on “cc” for subtitles in English.
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.