Forthcoming events

25 January, 2020

12-13 February 2020, kl 10-11 – Cornelius Holtorf will present a paper at the Shaping sustainable futures through heritage conference at NCK in Östersund, Sweden. (in English)

24 mars 2020, kl 18 – Cornelius Holtorf will participate in a conversation about Öland 2050-World Heritage Futures at Mörbylånga Library. (in Swedish)

UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures

24 January, 2020

A mix of committed individuals from different countries, with different specialisms and at different stages in their careers. 

All seven members of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures met on 21-22 January 2020 at Linnaeus University in Kalmar to exchange views and experiences on relevant issues and to launch the second phase of their work for which they will intensify joint discussions.

Photograph by Johannes Rydström/LNU.

New Working Party at the OECD

17 January, 2020

On 15 and 16 January, Anders Högberg participated in the kick-off meeting of the Working Party on Information, Data and Knowledge Management (WP-IDKM) at the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris.

The focus of this new OECD-initiative is on issues related to the keeping of information and knowledge required to inform future generations about the location and content of nuclear waste repositories. Together with delegates from several European countries, Japan and the US, he contributed to defining the directions for the coming three years of work within this initiative.

Grow your own cloud!

11 January, 2020

Here for an interesting project that promises to store all of our data for an unlimited future by drawing on organic technology.

The method draws on principles of natural heritage and saves data (including cultural heritage) by emitting O2 while cutting down on CO2, thus contributing to saving the planet ….

Curious? You should be! More information is available here.

The criticism of Trump´s threat to hit cultural sites in Iran is not sustainable

9 January, 2020

When Trump recently threatened to target cultural sites in Iran in future military attacks, the outcry of heritage organizations around the world was enormous.

Attacking cultural targets is not only against international law but also against deeply felt values that separate the realm of culture from the realm of legitimate military action. It has been pointed out that the US government does not have major disagreements with the Iranian people (and their culture) but merely with the politics of the Iranian government.

Similar sentiments have been rehearsed many times before, for example when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in 2001 and, more recently, when the Islamic State destroyed various ancient structures of Palmyra in Syria in 2015.

When cultural sites are targeted in military conflicts their sustainability is threatened. Hence the opposition of all the many organizations that agree on the importance of culture and cultural sites for people in Iran as elsewhere. But the question is whether the dominant understandings of culture that are reflected in the widespread criticism of Trump’s threat are sustainable either.

There are two problems in particular with the campaign to safeguard Iranian cultural sites. The first problem is that it essentializes the Iranian people. It assumes that there is only one culture in Iran uniting all its citizens. However, in reality people have different cultural preferences in Iran as much as anywhere else. It is not appropriate to assume that all 80 million Iranians share the same (one assumes traditional) culture when this is neither empirically likely to be the case nor what many Iranians themselves may want. Clearly, we need to recognize and indeed promote that people in Iran live their lives with different cultural preferences. But it is unclear whether in practice we are campaigning to safeguard all cultural preferences in Iran or only some.

The second problem is defending cultural sites in Iran essentializes Iranian culture. It assumes that culture in Iran is necessarily distinct from culture in the US or anywhere else. In reality however, very many people anywhere in the world share by now much more culture with each other than what divides them. They may have different mother tongues and live in different homes but they like to watch many of the same movies, listen to much of the same music, enjoy many of the same video games, tv programs, and sports, even consume some of the same food and beverages, etc. So those who insist that Iranian cultural sites must be saved, what do they mean: Iranian digital infrastructure? Iranian movie theaters? Iranian sports arenas and shopping malls? Even the biggest religions have global distributions.

When Trump threatened to target cultural sites, he intended to provoke Iranian politicians and presumably the entire world. In doing so he also meant to reaffirm the belief that Iranians are culturally distinct from Americans (and others), and that all Iranians share one joint culture. These are not sustainable assumptions if you have faith in cultural freedom for everybody and if you are aware of the many cultural preferences that today unite so many people in the world with each other.

Trump may not like to see that most Iranians really are in many ways like all of us. Let us be free to disagree with him on this point, too.

Historians on the future

4 January, 2020

I am reading what historians have got to say about the future. Robin G. Collingwood (1956: 54) famously stated that

“The historian’s business is to know the past, not to know the future, and whenever historians claim to be able to determine the future in advance of its happening we may know with certainty that something has gone wrong with their fundamental conception of history.”

Behind this pessimism appears to be a rather narrow view of historians’ working methods, as Collingwood expressed elsewhere:

“We cannot know the future, just because the future has not happened and therefore cannot leave its traces in the present. The historian who tries to forecast the future is like a tracker anxiously peering at a muddy road in order to descry the footsteps of the next person who is going to pass that way.” (Collingwood 2009: 247-8)

But as a matter of fact, the past is not happening now either but exactly as the name suggests: past. The present contains clues of both past and future deserving to be studied, analyzed and interpreted in equal measure, says David Staley:

“We gain access to the future through a similar means by which we gain access to the past: indirectly, through an examination of evidence. […] Like evidence of the past, evidence of the future makes some future state or condition evident. If we wish to inquire into the future, we have little choice but to examine objects and processes that exist in the present, for all evidence—of both past and future—resides in the present.” (Staley 2007: 58)

Past and future are both equally material and elusive, real and imagined. Indeed, they are not polar opposites but closely connected. In the end, I am with Zoltán Simon who recently reminded his fellow historians that

“history – the very possibility of history – begins with the formulation of a vision of the future, that is, with the postulation of a future different from the present and the past.” (Simon 2018: 198)


Collingwood, Robin G. (1994) The Idea of History [1946]. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Collingwood, Robin G. (2009) Oswald Spengler and the Theory of Historical Cycles [1927]. In: A. Budd (ed.) The Modern Historiography Reader. Western Sources, pp. 245-250. London and New York: Routledge.

Simon, Zoltán B. (2018) History Begins in the Future. On Historical Sensibility in the Age of Technology. In: S. Helgesson and J. Svenungsson (eds) The Ethos of History: Time and Responsibility, pp. 192-209. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

Staley, David J. (2007) History and Future. Using Historical Thinking to Imagine the Future. Plymouth: Lexington.

Special issue on Heritage Futures

2 January, 2020

A new issue of the International Journal of Heritage Studies is dedicated to Anticipating Loss: Rethinking Endangerment in Heritage Futures (all accessible in open access).

From the introduction of the co-editors:

“Heritage relies, to a large extent, on notions of endangerment and consequential attempts to arrest or reverse processes of loss and change. The papers in this special issue engage critically with this underlying orientation…”

In addition to Sarah May, the authors include Caitlin DeSilvey, Rodney Harrison, Trinidad Rico, Nadia Bartolini, Esther Breithoff, Jennie Morgan, Sharon Macdonald, and Þóra Pétursdóttir.


Various activities October – December 2019

31 December, 2019

Cornelius Holtorf presented a talk on “Applied heritage and the need to increase ‘futures literacy’ in the heritage sector” for ca 15 international heritage specialists attending a JPI-CH expert meeting on Heritage Management in Dynamic Environments held at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands in Amersfoort, Netherlands (9 October 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg took active part in a meeting at middle management level at SKB in Stockholm discussing current and future collaborations concerning the preservation of records, knowledge and memory of nuclear waste (25 October 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf discussed future collaboration with Maja Heuer who is developing a new World Heritage Museum for Blekinge Museum, Karlskrona (4 November 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf attended the meeting of the World Heritage Council for the World Heritage site Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland, in Mörbylånga (8 November 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf participated in a 6-day course on “Perspectives on collaboration – on the roles of academia in society” in Lund, Växjö and Linköping (November – December 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf taught 13 students in the Graduate Studies Programme in Antiquity Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He had responsibility for half of the Research Seminar Course on “‘Cultural Heritage’ in Antiquity Studies”. The intensive 2-day workshop entitled “Das Kulturerbe und wie es uns in der Zukunft von Vorteil sein kann” (Cultural heritage and how it can be of use to us in the future) contained elements of text-based seminar discussion, lecture with discussion, structured futures workshop and open group discussion (18/19 November 2019).

Annalisa Bolin gave a talk entitled “Material Mediation: Heritage Politics Across Rwanda’s Borders” for the Critical Heritage Studies Network at Stockholm University (21 November 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf chaired a panel discussion with 5 experts on the significance of research in museum archaeology during an audience of ca 35 attending the Annual Meeting of the Swedish Association of Museum Archaeology (M-Ark) in Kalmar (28 November 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf chaired the second project workshop of the “Memory Across Generations” project dedicated to culture heritage, held at the National Archives of Sweden, Stockholm (29 November 2019). Claudio Pescatore contributed actively and acted as Secretary.

Cornelius Holtorf gave a talk (presented by recorded video) entitled “UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures: a short presentation” at the 2019 KNUCH UNESCO Chair International Conference, Hapjeong-ri, Chungnam, Korea (4 December 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf gave a talk on “Cultural Heritage and Cultural Resilience” for a public audience at Linnaeus University, Sjöfartshögskolan, Kalmar (4 December 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf gave a talk on “Time Travel for real. Experiences of the Past” for the eXperience Knowledge Platform at Linnaeus School of Business and Economics, Kalmar (6 December 2019).

Cornelius Holtorf presented a talk on “The Value of Cultural Heritage in the Future” for cirka 50 professionals in the regional cultural heritage sector discussing the question What is the Value of Cultural Heritage?, Kalmar (13 December 2019).

A camera capturing future change

23 December, 2019

The American artist and philosopher Jonathon Keats has been creating an ingenious little camera that documents the flow and passage of time over a century or a millennium. It is a simple device that involves black paper gradually bleaching in response to the light let in through a pinhole and thus producing something like a single-frame movie.

Keats explains:

“Anything that stays in place will look sharp. Anything moving quickly, like cars and people, won’t show up at all. And anything that changes slowly, like a growing tree, will be ghostly. You’ll also be able to see bigger changes, like the ghost of a house that’s been knocked down haunting the apartment building that takes its place.”

There are many reasons why this camera may not work but the camera is cheap to build and an exhibition of each camera’s picture is already set to be opened in 3015 at the Art Museums of Arizona State University. Keats knows that “[m]ost likely it will take multiple attempts, spanning tens of thousands of years, to get the exposure right.” But this prospect does not daunt him:

“The ongoing iterative process of trying to perfect this technology can provide countless generations with a sense of connection and collective purpose.”

Cultural heritage, nuclear waste and the future

16 December, 2019

“Whether we are concerned with nuclear waste or cultural heritage, we are in the same business of Heritage Futures… Heritage Futures are concerned with the roles of heritage in managing the relations between present and future societies, e.g. through anticipation and planning.”

From a new paper now available in open access: Holtorf, C. (2019) “Cultural heritage, nuclear waste and the future: what’s in it for us?” In: J. Dekker (ed.) Bewaren of Weggooien? Middleburg: Zeeuwse Ankers and COVRA.

– Note that most of the book is in Dutch but my contribution is in English.