Archive for May, 2020

Do we need a new world heritage?

Monday, May 25th, 2020

A contribution by Cornelius Holtorf and Annalisa Bolin for the blog Seeing the Woods of the Rachel Carson Centre has now been published, entitled

CORONA CRISIS, UNESCO AND THE FUTURE: DO WE NEED A NEW WORLD HERITAGE?

We argue that it is not surprising that many have started asking about the legacy that the “corona crisis” of 2020 is going to leave behind for the years and perhaps for decades to come. Seldom have the relations between present and future societies felt more relevant than during the present weeks…

 

The Future of the World (and Heritage)

Monday, May 18th, 2020

In a very insightful work, Jenny Andersson addressed the history of The Future of the World (2018), discussing Futurology, Futurists and The Struggle for the Post-Cold War Imagination.

It emerges that from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, future research was a frontier of the social sciences. According to Andersson, this was the heyday of the  ‘long term’ as a category of control and management. It was also the time of the 1964 Venice Charter and the 1972 World Heritage Convention, when heritage began to be managed for the long term. But then something happened:

Against a post-war notion of the future as the ‘long term’ stood a distinctly different idea of the future as a field of resistance, love, and imagination. According to the latter, the future was not a logical and foreseeable construct, but a domain of active human consciousness, transcendence, and being. As future studies somehow married futurology by the mid-1970s on and the different strands of future research came together in a dominant idea of expertise, it was this radical content that was lost. (original context)

Arguably, in the realm of heritage, this alternative future now lost was connected to stories about a heritage associated with early matriarchy, the Celtic druids and native ancestral wisdom.

Are these strands of heritage on the way back, now that climate change and other crises put the need for an alternative future back on the agenda? Do we still need World Heritage in the ‘long term’?

Incorporating change – heritage and Covid-19

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The world is in shock. Lives and economies are being shattered by an invisible enemy that has been brewing in bats for hundreds of thousands of years. From bats it passed on to another mammal – likely, the pangolin – and then, through wet markets or hunting or other, to Man.

Half of humankind is stuck at home.  Millions are still being infected; hospitals are overwhelmed. The dead are in the hundreds of thousands; hundreds of thousands more have died or are presently dying from lack of care of other health conditions. Morgues are beyond being full; proper funeral ceremonies cannot be held; spouses and friends are not allowed to visit their sick or give them the final farewell. Although pleas had been heard towards preparing for a major pandemic (See F. Bruni’s article on Laurie Garrett in NYT, 2 May 2020; Watch Bill Gates here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Af6b_wyiwI), the world has been taken as by surprise.

Today’s horror should not be forgotten. Besides passing on to future generations the tales of “how it really was”, we should also want to create the premises for avoiding or mitigating the occurrence of future horrors. Heritage is one of the means, but of what kind should it be?

Memorials will be erected, no doubt, especially in the most affected localities. Ideally any memorial should not only be a form of commemoration but also a societal tool to keep the attention alive.   Can we achieve this? And for how-long should memorials stay effective?  In order to keep the attention alive, memorials should stay effective on the order of 100 years, which is the periodicity of major world pandemics, with reminders every 25 years in-between.( see “Pandemics that changed history”, by History.com Editors at   https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/pandemics-timeline )

The latest major pandemics was the Spanish flu of around 1918, one hundred years after the first cholera pandemics of 1817. Recent reminders were HIV/Aids, Ebola and SARS.  This timing is remindful of that of tsunamis in Japan. On average, Japan is hit by a tsunami every three years; tsunamis causing fatalities take place every 23 years; and the deadliest tsunamis occur every 60 years.

The Japanese have been memorializing their tsunamis – at least the deadliest ones – in the form of tsunami warning and/or commemoration stones. One example is the picture, hereafter, of  a tsunami stone in Aneyoshi, Japan, which warns residents not to build homes below it. (Taken from M. Fackler’s article, NYT April 20, 2011)   317 stone markers were erected since the 1896 and 1933 tsunamis, of which 125 (40%) disappeared with the devastation of the 2011 tsunami. Just as happened in the past, after important tsunamis, new stone markers were erected commemorating the latest (2011) tsunami. 500 such new markers pass on messages from this recent event to future generations. The initiative of creating and installing these modern stones was led by the Japanese guild of stone masons and not by the authorities, which highlights, on the one side, the potential role of civil society organizations in developing and maintaining markers and, on the other side, raises the question of the role, and the real interest, of the authorities in this type of warning and commemoration. (These data as well as others on Japan mentioned in the present blog are available from the 2014 study “Markers – Reflections on Intergenerational Warnings in the Form of Japanese Tsunami Stones”, accessible at https://www.oecd-nea.org/rwm/docs/2014/rwm-r2014-4.pdf ).

 

Tsunami stones

 

By and large the warnings the past tsunamis were neglected and did not help save lives when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011. Neglecting the warnings was rather the rule in post-1945 Japan, when the population started building their homes closer to shore, in areas marked by the tsunami stones as being at risk. Coastal towns grew rapidly against the backdrop of economic prosperity, and it appeared more advantageous for fishermen to live close to their boats. More villages were built closer to the shore after sea walls were erected in the 1960s. Another account suggests that people simply were too “busy” with their lives and jobs to pay attention to the stone markers.  A professor in disaster planning from Tōhoku University argued that it takes “three generations for people to forget”.

The neglected warnings of the Japanese tsunami stones illustrate that passive markers or monuments and memorials are not effective, in- and by-themselves, for maintaining the necessary awareness of past events and the necessary levels of protective behavior against recurring but still unpredictable events of variable devastating force. Memorialization should be not of the passive type. We should think heritage differently. In her book, Uses of Heritage (Routledge, 2006), Laurajanes Smith challenges traditional Western definitions of heritage that focus on material and monumental forms of ‘old’, or aesthetically pleasing, tangible heritage, which are all too often used to promote an unchallenging, consensual view of both the past and the present.

The challenge is today to create heritage memorials of various forms that do not expect future generations to take care of them as a matter of fact or even, as in the case of passive markers, not at all. They should be part of a practice or way of living that allows creating new meaning as society evolves.  Now is the time to think of constructing heritage that would naturally allow for adaptation and reinterpretation while supporting the original goal of not forgetting and, even, of fostering continued and additional knowledge.

 

Claudio Pescatore, member of the Chair

 

The need to remember COVID-19

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

Neuroscientist and futurist Anders Sandberg has published an interesting argument about our moral duty to remember the lesson of COVID-19 for the benefit of future generations:

The Covid-19 pandemic … is a wake-up call. … [H]istorically we have adapted to trauma rather well. Maybe too well – we have a moral reason to ensure that we do not forget the harsh lessons we are learning now. 

What kind of lessons do we need to learn? The basic ones are what strategies work and do not work, whether in epidemiological strategy, social life or how to handle the experience personally. 

According to Sandberg, part of the solution may be the construction of monumental memorials:

In the end, we better build some hard-to-ignore monuments to the people who died or performed heroically, to shore up our collective memory. Li Wenliang may be a good symbolic martyr to remember (especially the key lesson about openness being necessary for a rapid response).

It is to a large degree a real moral choice whether Covid-19 becomes a warning shot that teaches us useful things for the time when a truly dangerous pathogen emerges (or is made) or just a massive distraction that is soon conveniently forgotten… until it is too late. Given the stakes, it matters to remember well.

But what does it matter “to remember well”, I would ask? No detailed message remains understandable and meaningful across generations, unless it is regularly being updated and translated into a new context.

The best message to transmit to the future may therefore be a meta-message:

  1. Keep the experts on essential issues!
  2. Listen to them!
  3. Vote for politicians who put human wellbeing first! 

I wonder who may be the right martyr to be memorialised for that message to be carried forward…