Futures Literacy Summit

13 December, 2020

During the past week, Cornelius Holtorf attended the digital Futures Literacy Summit, organised by UNESCO (8-12 December 2020). Among the highlights for him were six events in particular:

  1. An encounter with The Museum of Future History, directed by experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats. Among the projects of the museum is a biodegradable time capsule intended to express perceptions of the future and to decompose before that future arrives (see the template provided here).
  2. An extended conversation he had with Jerome Glenn, Co-founder and CEO of The Millennium Project, and Elizabeth Florescu and Mara Di Berardo, two other representatives of the same project, about heritage futures, nuclear waste and other global challenges, world heritage and the role of culture in the world.
  3. A recorded lecture and open discussion with futurist Peter Bishop on how to prepare students for the future.
  4. An exploration of the informative OECD Strategic Foresight Unit, featuring among others a policy response document on COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors
  5. A statement by Gabriela Ramos, Assistent Director General for Social & Human Sciences at UNESCO, in which she expressed that “[b]eing futures literate alters how we see ourselves and our role in the world. We gain confidence in our ability to be agile and embrace transformation. …  The way we ‘build’ the world around us changes. Now is the time to embrace a different, more open and diverse, more democratic approach to ‘using-the-future’. It is time for all of us to become more futures literate.”
  6. A statement by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in which he emphasised that “Futures Literacy enhances our ability to sense, and make sense of, our ever-changing world. It helps us to prepare for an uncertain future …” He also said that he was looking forward “to the contributions that Futures Literacy will make as we strive to build a peaceful, prosperous world for all on a healthy planet.”

The Bamiyan Buddhas – what next?

11 December, 2020

In 2001, the Taliban blew the Bamiyan Buddha statues to pieces. Since then, UNESCO and others have been deliberating whether they ought to be reconstructed.

Now the current state of the discussion has been published by Springer in a volume entitled The Future of the Bamiyan Buddha Statues, summarising the outcomes of a UNESCO conference held in Tokyo in 2017. The book contains a chapter by Cornelius Holtorf entitled “Destruction and Reconstruction of Cultural Heritage as Future-Making“. He argues that before any specific reconstructions of the Buddha statues are commissioned, we should consider several alternative futures for the past:

  • will there be new audiences for heritage among the growing populations of Asia?
  • Will digital and interactive ways of presentation reduce the significance of genuine artefacts?
  • Will the preference for dark and painful heritage grow and perhaps increasingly demand stories about the Taliban rather than about Buddhism?
  • Or will heritage tourism come to an end altogether? 

Future making aspects of heritage

10 December, 2020

Dr Sarah May, Senior Lecturer in Public History and Heritage at Swansea University, giving evidence to the Welsh government this morning – there will also be a transcript soon. Lots of interesting things came up and interesting that everyone accepted that we serve the present first and let the future make its own decisions, and that similarly we don’t need to be bound by the views of the past.

Sarah May UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures

Dr Sarah May UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures


Millennium trees and the lockdown

8 December, 2020

A beautiful ‘heritage futures’ story by Sarah May.

Small commerations, heritage, pasts and futures intermingled.

Millennium trees and the lockdown

Cultural heritage and the Future – the book is out!

7 December, 2020

Now published with Routledge:

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg (eds) 2021, Cultural Heritage and the Future. London and New York: Routledge. 290 pp. eBook/pbk/hbk

Preview and table of content available here.

Cultural heritage and the future is a field of research and practice that has been developing over the past few years. The present volume was originally devised in 2012, related to a session on the same topic which we co-organized for the First Conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The volume contains a wide range of contributions discussing examples from many parts of the world that raise important issues about the interrelations between cultural heritage and the future. Taken as a whole, we believe that the book will contribute significantly to building capacity in futures thinking and futures literacy among researchers and practitioners throughout the heritage sector.

After repatriation, what next?

2 December, 2020

On Africa Is a Country, Annalisa Bolin writes about the return to African countries of the cultural heritage taken during colonialism. “After repatriation, what next?” examines the usable pasts and heritage futures that restitutions make possible on the continent, and the options African countries have for the use of their heritage going forward. 

Heritage futures question the status quo

29 November, 2020

When I present key ideas associated with our work on heritage futures, promoting futures-thinking among heritage professionals, some colleagues say that this is nothing new. Here are a few examples illustrating what I mean when I say that we must go beyond the status quo in heritage thinking. I cite below several statements from a recent document on European heritage policy, and how we differ from the heritage futures perspective.

Status quo: Whether we like it or not, we are all intrinsically connected to our past.

Heritage futures: More than anything else, we are all necessarily tied up with on-going processes in our present and their impacts on the future.

Status quo: Europe’s cultural heritage is the direct result of our ancestors’ deeds, efforts and decisions.

Heritage futures: Europe’s current ‘cultural heritage’ has been constructed over the past couple of centuries by intellectuals, politicians, business people, and various kinds of cultural activists and influencers. 

Status quo: It is time to acknowledge that this shared heritage, this sense of togetherness, is the real foundation on which Europe is built.

Heritage futures: It is time to acknowledge that Europe has been built on a notion of heritage that is increasingly associated with divisions in society.

Status quo: Europe’s cultural heritage … shows us how our lives are connected to a long line of generations coming before and after us.

Heritage futures: Cultural heritage must be re-imagined now to create a viable foundation for future societies, both in Europe and globally.

Status quo: Our cultural heritage holds up a mirror to who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be, and helps us to interpret our past successes and failures.

Heritage futures: Futures literacy in the heritage sector can facilitate necessary changes in society and in how we see ourselves, in order to meet global challenges of the future.



Podcast about Rwandan heritage research

25 November, 2020

UNESCO Chair postdoctoral fellow Annalisa Bolin was interviewed on HumPodd about her research on Rwandan heritage, genocide memorials, development, and tourism. Listen to her conversation with Tommy Gustavsson and Jonas Svensson online or find the “Bloody Heritage” episode of HumPodd on Apple podcasts.

Re-imagining heritage

20 November, 2020

Cornelius Holtorf presented a lecture on “Heritage Futures and Re-Imagining Heritage” for an audience of 70 attending the Research Forum at the Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK.

Using the example of UNESCO World Heritage and global conflicts during the 20th and 21st centuries, he argued that addressing ‘heritage futures’ means to be able to re-imagine heritage – not the least to create peace or other benefits for future generations.

“A Cultural Deal for Europe”

18 November, 2020

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg attended the high-profile webinar on A Cultural Deal for Europe about the European Union’s post-pandemic future, featuring senior European politicians and lobbyists (18 November 2020). There were a lot of fine words about the value of culture generally and about the significance of cultural tourism and ‘our’ common identity specifically…

Holtorf asked: “Culture is about far more than income through tourism and a sense of belonging rooted in the past. Culture is also about shared values, effective integration, human wellbeing, generational links, creativity and innovation, etc. How will these additional aspects inform the Cultural Deal for Europe?”

In response, Sabine Verheyen MEP (Chair Committee on Culture and Education, European Parliament) makes the point that we need more data to show the power of culture in order to persuade the finance ministers. We will need to address this problem in one way or another!

Högberg pointed later to the emerging agenda at the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures to employ heritage purposefully for managing the relations between present and future societies. He received visible interest by other participants.