Tools for strategising for memory preservation over centuries and millennia – A new publication in the UNESCO SCEaR Newsletter

11 June, 2020

UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. Sub-Committee on Education and Research  SCEaR Newsletter 2020/1 (June).

Preserving Memory and Information on Heritage and on Unwanted Legacies – New Tools for Identifying Sustainable Strategies Prepare and Support Decision Making by Future Generations by Claudio Pescatore and Jonas Palm


“Future” is a notion that is not systematically developed in the heritage professions. Current management practice relies on the assumption that the necessary means will be made available and that the information will be as intelligible to people in the future as it was to those who left it originally or to those who re-worked it in the intervening time. For a variety of causes – natural and/or human – archives may disappear or be insufficient, records enabling the memory of why certain decisions were taken may be lost, the information still existing may not be intelligible, and funds may no longer be available for performing whatever action may be needed.  We cannot prevent those changes from happening, we can, however, seek to develop and implement strategies that maximize future societies’ chances to make their own decisions based on exploitable information especially in connection with legacies that we leave behind and that they will own for centuries and millennia to come. In the past 10 years progress has been accomplished in understanding how a durable, long-term preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) strategy could be built. Guiding principles and practical action items have been also formulated in the context of sustainable development. This paper develops a set of tools that professionals can apply and further develop themselves to create ad-hoc catalogues of RK&M mechanisms and to identify how they could be combined best with one another in order to maximize the chances that the needed information can be passed on durably. The methodology that is described and the tools that are presented could help present-day professionals think and deal with the “future” in a more systematic, assured and reliable way.


A Star Trek interpretation of the Future

10 June, 2020

A guest blog by Jesper de Raad:

Ever since I attended the Heritage Futures workshop ‘Thinking and Planning the Future in Heritage Management’ in Amsterdam in 2019 I regularly see examples of interesting ways on how we (currently) perceive the future.

A recent example is a ten second frame in Star Trek – Discovery. In the episode Such Sweet Sorrow: Part 2 we can spot the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a very recognisable piece of our collective cultural heritage. In this particular picture, we can see how the present looks at the future. The Golden Gate Bridge, as cultural heritage, is still there but there is no need for automobiles as people can fly around in space ships. People are still dependable on solar energy though, which is produced by the panels on the bridge as depicted in this scene.

This is a way of thinking about the future which at the same time is very tied and bound to the present. We think with our current knowledge and mindset. We are only able to perceive the future through the present!

Jesper de Raad, contact:

An Archaeology for the Future

31 May, 2020

Archaeology is the study of the past in the present. But can it deal with the future too?

  • Which future(s) are archaeologists working for?
  • Which archaeological heritage will benefit future generations most?
  • How can archaeologists build capacity in futures thinking? 

Some thoughts on these issues have now been published by Cornelius Holtorf in Post-Classical Archaeologies vol 10. By reviewing some recent and current projects conducted at Linnaeus University in Sweden he shows that it is possible to engage actively and constructively with the future and consider benefits of archaeology for future societies.

Do we need a new world heritage?

25 May, 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


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)

18 May, 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

6 May, 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:, 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 Editors at )

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 ).


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

2 May, 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…

Culture and the COVID-19 pandemic

21 April, 2020

ICOMOS and partners in the Culture 2030 Goal campaign released a Statement on Culture and the COVID-19 pandemic which the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures has been endorsing.

Entitled ‘Ensuring culture fulfills its potential in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic‘, the statement reminds us that

“culture is both a source of inspiration and a means of realising our thoughts and ideas, that culture makes it possible to mend the social fabric, to forge new forms of solidarity, to create new spaces in which to draw the energy needed to meet together the intense challenges facing us.”

More information here.

Coronavirus and the changing practices of memory in Rwanda

15 April, 2020

Every April, Rwanda observes the official commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans in 1994. People gather in large groups to remember the victims, pay respects, and mourn together; wreaths are laid at mass graves and the flame of remembrance is lit at Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital.

This year, coronavirus hit Rwanda only weeks before the season of Kwibuka (“to remember”). Rwanda has witnessed enormous change and development since 1994, but it remains relatively impoverished, and while most Rwandans are covered through a system of universal healthcare, a coronavirus-induced spike could—as in most countries—quickly overwhelm the country’s healthcare capacity. The government responded swiftly to flatten the curve, closing Rwanda’s borders and instituting a nationwide lockdown, complete with provision of food and essentials to some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable.

For Rwandans, as for much of the world, this spring brings immense changes to everyday life. But it also changed Kwibuka, pressuring organizers to find ways of reconciling the mandate to remember—a mandate fulfilled every April through mass commemoration and public participation—with the imperative to reduce virus transmission.

Kwibuka not only provides space for memory, but also ensures that this memory is passed on to younger generations—an urgent need in Rwanda, where a majority of citizens was born after the genocide. This desire to educate has been a driver of the growth of Kwibuka into a major national event, shaping commemoration in the country. Rwanda’s lockdown has forced changes in these practices, potentially endangering the ability to maintain collective memory into the future, as well as posing obstacles to meeting the needs of survivors and commemorators today.

President Kagame acknowledged the challenge in his Kwibuka address to the nation: “This year’s commemoration for survivors and families and for the country is hard because we cannot be together physically to comfort one another,” he said. “It is not an easy thing to do, Rwandans are used to coming together with solidarity and collective strength.” But, he added, “The current unusual circumstances will not prevent us from fulfilling our obligation to commemorate this solemn anniversary, honor those we lost and console survivors.”

There are resonances between April 1994, when Rwandans hid in their homes, and April 2020, under a national lockdown order. “It is April again, and we are on lock-down but this time not for being killed!” writes genocide survivor and author Claver Irakoze. “This time we actually feel safe to be locked down. We feel protected, not ambushed or surrounded.” Kwibuka has gone on, although the photos from this year’s ceremonies look very different. The President and First Lady light the flame at the Kigali memorial alone; high-ranking government officials lay wreaths one at a time, while the Rwandan Army Band performs, each member seated two meters apart from the next.

The changes in Kwibuka are difficult, as Nelson Gashagaza and Samantha Teta acknowledge. “Kwibuka26 is going to be exceptionally hard for survivors who will not be able to visit their beloved, lay down flowers on grave or water-bodies or meet in one place,” they write. New ways must be found to commemorate, especially online. These are especially important, Gashagaza and Teta point out, for survivors, who can find the anniversary of the genocide traumatic. “The best we can do for now is not allow survivors to experience the worst part of holding the memories: the loneliness of it,” they say. Being unable to visit shared spaces for commemoration is a loss, but not one that requires survivors, or any Rwandan, to go through Kwibuka alone. “Just because we can’t convene in lieux de mémoire,” Gashagaza and Teta say, “doesn’t mean we can’t create milieux de memoire—an environment of remembrance” online, using the digital platforms that are helping Rwandans connect during lockdown to facilitate communal gathering and support for survivors.

In Kagame’s speech, the Rwandan New Times reports, the president “highlighted that historical lessons have taught Rwandans the importance of working together to build a better future for all Rwandans”. Rwanda’s post-genocide development has been built, in part, on the pursuit of self-reliance, and the attempt to solve Rwandan problems with “homegrown solutions”. Lessons from Rwanda’s past are helping it manage the challenges of the present in contexts as different as the pursuit of development and mitigating coronavirus’s impact on the most difficult, important season of the year.

For Kwibuka26, Rwandans are helping to ensure their collective survival through finding new ways to be together while having to be apart. Although it is easy to think of memory as past-oriented and static, in fact the many ways humans remember—including Kwibuka’s commemorations—are dynamic. They respond not only to contemporary conditions, but also to what is anticipated that the future will need, as in Rwanda’s efforts to educate younger generations through collective commemoration. Coronavirus has prompted changes in memory practices, opening up new possibilities for the coming years. In Kwibuka27 and beyond, perhaps some of these new milieux de mémoire, and other solutions Rwandans develop, will persist as part of the changing landscape of commemoration.

From Corona Crisis to Heritage Futures

14 April, 2020

A virus has put the world on hold. Many individual human actions suddenly appear extremely small and insignificant in comparison with the unyielding might and relentless spread with which the SARS-CoV-2 virus is presently conquering Earth.

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.

Read a commentary on the “corona crisis” from the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures. — Do we need a new kind of world heritage for the post-corona world?