Review

Review by Carlos Jaramillo

Monday, September 20th, 2021

Cultural Heritage and the Future. Edited by C. Holtorf and A. Högberg. Routledge, 2021.

Reviewed by Carlos Jaramillo, Ph.D., Architect and Cultural Heritage Consultant, Email: A120105@e.ntu.edu.sg

As an amateur Tarot reader, the future is a place where gods and demons are at play, showing an endless dance among the archetypes that define us as humans. As a cultural heritage practitioner and academic, I acknowledge our necessity to transcend into the future, as a continuation of the present, and cultural heritage, a prime vehicle to achieve it. This volume is – from my interpretation – about transcending through cultural heritage.

When giving its right context, we, the humankind, on this planet, with our gods, myths, fetishes (E-Meter™, see Maxwell, chapter 8), religions and truths, are merely a blink of an eye, for the extended TIME (see Holtorf and Högberg, chapter 10), in capital letters. That, in fact, is the milieu of what we call future. Sometimes challenged by disruptions such as the existing pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic is placing current generations at the verge of no-return, a narrative of no-future (see Groves-Brown, chapter 15). Now, more than ever before, the concept of future has shifted to one of restricted possibilities, far from hope, and shiny technologies (see Gorman and May, chapter 9) or legacies (see May, chapter 3).

Reading a volume written before the pandemic and commenting while India piles covid-corpses on the streets, Colombia is at 100% occupancy of ICU beds, and, Brazil reached 500 thousands deaths, cultural heritage seems luxurious. For what, for whom and for when, are fair questions (see Arami, chapter 13) to the debacle of the heritage sector. Silenced; unable to contribute to global issues. Built on fragile moral discourses, geopolitics, and power (see Gorman and May, chapter 9).

If we tenaciously carved the values we claim to the cost of life (or death of the planet), what some call “Global Problematique” (see Sandford and Cassar, chapter 16). What kind of cultural heritage would reflect our life, holistically, honestly? From this, and past presents?

It is through nuclear remains (see Holtorf and Högberg, chapter 10), dissonance of heritage assets (see Dixon, chapter 7), fragmentality to understand heritage (see González-Ruibal, chapter 6), or waste caused by “development”, that our time will be seen. Maybe also, insatiable consumption (see Buser, Van Lukit, Nelson and Holtorf, chapter 12) is what defines us. A vision, nevertheless, curated and permeated by heritage expressions (see DeSilvey, chapter 14).

The book, successfully sheds light on sides of the cultural heritage that might give meaning to a future to come. However, when analysed with the lens of the current system in place, cultural heritage has limited possibilities. This work contributes to the general discussion on cultural heritage with the audacity of screening it with alternative eyes, scientific thoughts, multiplicity, span of time and space, from different geographic areas and views of the world. Built on four independent sections, Cultural Heritage and the Future includes one final section (Heritage and future making, with five chapters) that is a breath of fresh air and an effort to conceptualise, define and discuss how our decisions will shape the future of cultural heritage and the cultural heritage of the future.

However, the book leaves behind the Global South (as a topic), from where most of the answers to a future might come from (at least water, food, and lithium), give the sense of non-completion, like cultural heritage (see Dixon, chapter 7). To arrive at a future to be, this work misses a perspective of accountability, and follows the logic of generational “all-included” approach to the future, dismissing the inequality carved along with greed, exercise of politics and power. Mercilessly. Cultural heritage embodies also inequality in the share of economic resources, attention, impact, and of course, value. How could we understand the developed world without the Global South, looted, colonised, segregated, exploited, enslaved, and used throughout centuries?

I want to give special mention to Rodney Harrison’s “Heritage practices as future-making practices” and his study on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV). And draw a parallel with Biosphere 2, from the University of Arizona, to establish a preliminary scheme of how cultural heritage can retake its role as a mirror of society at large, without moral content. While Harrison give an unfathomable account of SGSV, as the reserve of agricultural memory, repository of food security worldwide and the best document to show the pettiness of human kind, Biosphere 2 is a fulltime science programme on seven models ecosystems, present on earth. Biosphere 2 addresses challenging topics, such as water and energy, and perform large-scale experiments to impact nature. When read together, SGSV and Biosphere 2, as heritage trajectories, it is possible to envisage new and meaningful forms of cultural heritage, and a purposeful, hopeful and promising perspective on cultural heritage vis-à-vis the future.

FOOD-topia (or heritage value by producing the food for its own consumption). ZERO-heritage-CO₂ (or the need to achieve carbon free heritage sites, assets and practices). And SMART-energy-HERITAGE (or the recognition of unsustainability of the heritage sector), are some of the topics which I envisage will occupy the cultural heritage agenda and synchronize it to the voices able to realistically formulate potential answers to the current crisis.

The number of additional terms, used in this volume, to explain cultural heritage in the light of a future, reminds us of transition, a gap “in-between” old and new structures, where cultural heritage can be particularly eloquent. In short, heritage as part of a stage of liminality. Most chapters address, indirectly, the role of cultural heritage as transition through liminal stages, allowing alternative conceptualization, views, and associations.

Borrowing the principles of liminality, cultural heritage yields the need to deconstruct the old structure, entangled in conventions, decrees, articles and nostalgia (see DeSilvey, chapter 14), impeding potential and critical futures (see Sandford and Cassal Chapter 16) or common sense (see Joyce, chapter 11). This, in my opinion, is the underlying message of this book. The exercise of our will to decide about continuation, transformation or renewal of our own experience, and the heritage to represent it (see Holtorf and Högberg, chapter 4) is now a necessity.

Review by Ana Sladojević

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Cultural Heritage and the Future, edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg, Routledge, London and New York, 2021.

Reviewed by Ana Sladojević, PhD in Theory of Art and Media, independent curator. Email: anasladojevic@gmail.com

Cultural Heritage and the Future is a welcome and, in some terms, groundbreaking criticism aimed at heritage field theory and practice. However, while all the current heritage future thinking keywords are present in this edition, they do not seem to function as well together as we might expect. It may be due to the methodological approach that does not prioritize the criticism of highly problematic and ideological frameworks of knowledge production within heritage. Namely, the book skips to more clearly emphasize as to why the heritage field continues to fail the task of thinking about futures: for its own projection of the future, the one created within the paradigm of progress, modernity, and universalism, failed us.

All the while the editors recognize that the heritage production field does not have to encompass only heritage professionals – and this may be its greatest potential at introducing the change in thinking about future(s) in heritage – they still fail to act upon their own advice and to consistently apply this in their approach. There was no place in the book for the whole array of roles and responsibilities that individuals involved in heritage production beyond this field have in future thinking. Even more, the editors’ comment that they were not able “…to commission papers of high quality from additional world regions” (Holtorf and Högberg, 2021, p.2), says a lot about the current state of affairs within the academia and heritage field, where numerous professionals and thinkers outside the mainstream – whom I am sure would have a lot to say about this topic – are rarely if ever included, resulting in the field remaining closed and almost homogeneous.

The book paints futures marked by uncertainty, fear of loss, and the inability to let go of control, not over future generations’ futures, but over the possibility of some post-mortem traces that would testify about us being here in the first place. The examples of underground structures, vaults, repositories and other tomb-like (post)apocalyptic constructions, betray universalist heritage thinking. The epistemological move towards nuclear waste and space junk is meant to place this book within the wider perspective of time (the time of the nuclear waste toxic activity) and space (the extra-terrestrial space). However, such attempts to establish control over time and space can be linked to the highly problematic hegemonic ideology of heritage as we know it, which often ignores knowledge production and transmission beyond the dominant, Western (or Global North) paradigm.

Individual contributions pose some important questions in problematizing the very thinking about future/s, among them the recurrent problem of infantilizing the “future generations“ (May, pp. 46-58), as well as the assumption that we can today even anticipate the needs of the future. (Holtorf and Högberg, pp. 1-28) Important conclusions about heritage as process (Avrami, pp. 198-216; Sandford and Cassar, pp. 245-263), maintenance activities emphasized as central to and not a by-product of human endeavour (González-Ruibal, pp. 87-102), or “palliative curation“ (DeSilvey, pp. 217-229), pointing at – among other things – ideological constrictions of current heritage practice, do not seem to weave consistently throughout the book. The placement of the only text that focuses on decolonization, Decolonizing the Future, Folk art environments and the temporality of heritage, by Alfredo González-Ruibal (pp. 87-102), within the overall tone of the book, sends the message that decolonization of heritage field and academia is something that has to happen somewhere else – on the fringes – and not in the midst of the dominant production of knowledge.

In times of environmental calamity, a dire humanitarian crisis reflected in strict migration policies and the legally confirmed difference in value of one human life over another, as well as a major health emergency of Covid-19 that pointed even more at the inequalities around the world – the book links only the material outcomes to the imagining of future/s (apart from the chapter on intangible heritage by Luo Li, pp 72-86), almost completely leaving some more socially relevant and communal issues aside. Namely, to address the organic fragility of life and the uncertainty of survival, cannot be done without addressing current policies of bio- and necropolitics. To think about the global/universalizing aspect of the survival of the human species cannot be done without introducing a more nuanced experience of the world, that has been influenced and stratified by hierarchies of wealth, different communal needs and ways of social embodiment.

In summary, I believe that editors could have addressed more strongly – and therefore link to future thinking:

  • a criticism of the production of knowledge in heritage;
  • the diversity and nuances of possible future approaches to heritage, as the field of heritage is represented as more coherent than it actually is or need to be;
  • the difference between heritage and legacy, as community-based affective heritage vs. shared responsibility for the outcomes of certain past practices.

And finally, the active and changing roles of communities in thinking of heritage and future/s have not been addressed more substantially, among possible topics being:

  • the decentralization of future heritage(s) decision-making, use and care;
  • a current and potential displacement of constituencies;
  • transformations of socially and legally recognized roles of individuals and groups, or introduction of previously unrecognized, individual (i.e. non-binary) or group, formal or informal participants, that would affect how both past and future will be construed.

 

 

Review by Tadej Curk

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

Holtorf, C. and A. Högberg (eds) 2021. Cultural Heritage and the Future. Routledge.

Reviewed by Tadej Curk, PhD student in Heritology at the Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. E-mail: tadej.curk@gmail.com.

During these unpredictable times and in the wake of radical social changes and uncertain political situations, editors Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg and article authors deserve much praise for their courage and groundbreaking step in connecting cultural heritage with the future. As many authors in the book point out, numerous experts in the field of heritage are unable to connect heritage and its preservation with the future. This might not be a problem were it not for the national and international legal documents about heritage and its preservation which point out the need of protecting and preserving heritage for future generations. Museums, too, justify their existence and their work with preserving heritage for the future. Despite that, a lot of them do not have a long-term vision concerning their work, and they operate in the framework of the consumer information society mostly for the here and now.

The book Cultural Heritage and the Future enables readers to start seeing the present approach to preserving and protecting cultural heritage from a critical perspective. It enables them to start differentiating between the reality when it comes to preservation for the future and over-the-top definitions and wishes of various legal documents. This is supported with well-chosen examples of good practice. At the same time, the book helps readers to take notice of a paradox when it comes to the present practice of preserving cultural heritage. On the one hand, various experts argue for the need to include the general public into preservation, for decolonized practices of preservation, for support of feminist archaeology etc. On the other hand, intentionally or unintentionally, they wish for future generations to accept uncritically their way of working and today’s practices in preserving cultural heritage. But Western cultures will continue to re-evaluate their values and understanding this is crucial for protecting and preserving cultural heritage for the future.

The authors also propose a different perspective on emerging heritage. They remind us that even today’s artefacts, cities, and buildings will one day become part of the archaeological heritage. A good example of this is radioactive waste and its storage facilities. This means that the heritage of the future is not just something which we preserve from past generations but we are also active creators of heritage, here and now.

The book reminds us that the past, written into the heritage, can generate understanding of the present and hope for a better future. In that sense, the book represents the first and crucial step in continuing in-depth studies which results in good working practices which can then serve as a bridge that connect cultural heritage, its preservation and protection with the future.

Most of the authors in the book correctly come to two conclusions: the future is (mostly) a product of the present, so there can be various futures. These futures may be diametrically opposite of each other but they are not mutually exclusive: there are multiple futures formed in the present. This is why it is surprising that the book rarely mentions the need for inter- and multidisciplinary approaches in present-day conservation and protection of cultural heritage. From the standpoint of multiple possible futures this should be a prerequisite for the conservation of cultural heritage for the future.

The articles propose various explanations and reasons for the formations of possible futures. The authors discuss these with the help of different scientific theories from various disciplines. Included is also a historic overview of presentations of the future in different sciences and art movements, different locations and different political ideologies. In a book that deals with the future, one would expect a more in-depth contribution about different (historical) visions and possible futures offering a more condensed presentation of visions of the future from different disciplines. Consequently, readers have to come to their own conclusions and their own ideas of the future. What I missed the most is a philosophical and detailed sociological overview of visions of the future from different natural sciences. After all, the progress of science and technology led to our visions of the future moving from the area of religion and theology into the framework of philosophy and science. 

The authors also rarely expand upon visions of the future which do not stem from the standpoint of the liberal West. (The editors emphasize this in the introduction and point it out as a shortcoming.) I would like to use an example from my home country (Slovenia) in order to show a different approach in forming a possible future. In the past, people imagined the future – partly under coercion – as socialist/communist, and up to this day, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek claims that the future will be either communist or there won’t be one at all. Then, they imagined the future as a common European one, and today we return to a nationalist, protectionist, I could even say illiberal, framework. How can we, then, in the course of one or two generations, create a framework for protecting and preserving cultural heritage in the future, if the future can radically change within one generation? This is something that cannot be done without understanding present-day social and political findings. One would assume that we can expect the most relevant insights from philosophers and sociologists. Changing visions of the future also endanger the conservation of heritage, which may – due to ‘incorrect’ connotations – become a target for destruction leading to abandonment and oblivion. The latter has been witnessed both in my own and in other countries that have been under a totalitarian ideology or a theocracy, now or in the past.

Only a few authors in the book discuss the cultural heritage as something other than a physical relic of the past. Many of them come to the correct conclusion that preserving archaeological and other tangible heritage ‘at any cost’ leads in the wrong direction: where heritage becomes nothing more than a burden for future generations. However, the heritage of the future is more than just a relic, a site or an object of the present. It also includes, as some authors emphasize, ideas, tradition, knowledge, spatial identity, collective memories, etc. which we need to preserve for future generations, for example, with the help of eco-museums.

If we want to preserve everything that has been listed, we need a democratic and multi-vocal interpretation of heritage in the present, with a consequent integration of inclusion and participation. This is the only way that we can enable future generations to come to independent decisions, based on their own ideas, convictions and state of science and technology. Heritage interpretation, as a key factor in conservation, is unfortunately not payed enough attention in the book, especially since interpretation enables the integration of heritage values and behaviour in present and future societies. Interpretation is also a key dimension on which a desire to preserve heritage on a local, national or international level can rest—enabling it to last longer in the future.

The book Cultural Heritage and the Future is one of the first and fundamental steps towards a deeper exploration and understanding of the relationship between (archeological) heritage and the future. Anyone who ventures into this field of research, reflection, study, etc., must read this book.

Review by Andres Zarankin

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Cultural Heritage and the Future. Edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg. Routledge 2021, 300 pp.

Reviewed by

Andrés Zarankin (Departamento de Antropologia e Arqueologia, Federal University of Minas Gerais, UFMG, Brazil), zarankin@yahoo.com 

Many years ago, I was asked to review the book From Stonehenge to Las Vegas by Cornelius Holtorf. I remember being impressed with how the old issues it raised were seen from new perspectives, rendered interesting and challenging. One of those topics was heritage (in the broadest terms imaginable). Since then, Holtorf has been challenging us with new ideas and proposals, which could be classified as controversial, and which provoke what has traditionally been understand as heritage, the policies (or anti-politics) for its pristine (uncontaminated) conservation, and more recently the heritage of the future, the central theme of the book reviewed in this text, edited together with Anders Högberg. A volume in which Holtorf and Högberg bring a multidisciplinary set of papers (another trait of Holtorf’s approaches – gather different views and disciplines) to reflecting on heritage from non-traditional ways and future perspectives.

The book is organized in 4 sections and has 17 articles (including the introduction and final remarks). Section one is called The future in heritage studies and heritage management, and it discusses theoretical conceptualizations of the future in heritage studies. Section 2, The future in culture heritage, brings various examples ranging from craftsmen buildings to space satellites, to reflect on what kind of heritage we want to leave for future generations. Section 3, Re-thinking heritage futures, aims to bring other – less-often considered – heritage possibilities, such as the case of nuclear waste. Finally, section 4, Heritage and future making, present a discussion focusing on the problem of what we should preserve, how to make this selection, and the social implications of what once was called an industry of heritage.

As we have seen, the book deals with a wide range of issues, guided by a deep reflection on the idea of the future and its implications for heritage, as well as its impact for generations to come. As Holtorf and Högberg mention in the introduction, although the concepts of heritage and future are axiomatic (preserving the past for future generations), it is difficult to find literature discussing the implications of heritage for the future. On the contrary, despite excuses citing the future, heritage is always discussed while looking at the past from the present, and for the present.

The very fact that no one has complete control over the future is what makes this topic so interesting and challenging. Of course, there are predictions, and we must admit that most are not very optimistic (e.g. novels and futuristic, post-apocalyptic movies). In this context, thinking about heritage and the future would be similar to leaving messages in bottles thrown into the sea, hoping that, when found, in different times, cultures and places (even as extreme as extraterrestrial in the case of messages launched into space), they can be understood – from our perspective. Also taking into consideration the famous phrase by Winston, the editor in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel 1984, “who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” we can conclude that controlling heritage, generating policies to preserve certain narratives (material and immaterial), while erasing others, is also a way of trying to control and predict the future. Of course, as emphasized by several of the authors of the volume, the content may not be valued in the same way in the future, because people can change. I still wonder, will it be that in the future The 10,000 Year Clock, sponsored by Jeff Bezos, will have the same heritage value as, say, the ruins of Auschwitz? Concerning this subject, I look forward to further discussion on whether there are differences between heritage and legacy.

I believe that the book makes important contributions to deconstruct and rethink the idea of heritage, from much broader and more flexible parameters. However, despite considering myself an enthusiast of Holtorf’s ideas and proposals, which many times shake us up, helping to find different ways of thinking about a certain problem, I have an important criticism about this volume. On page 2 of the introduction, the editors say, “we have tried to present a truly global perspective in this volume”, but, if we look the list of authors of the book, many of them noted colleagues worldwide, there are no persons from peripheral regions or countries, or there is even a lack of references to them in the chapter’s bibliography. Holtorf and Högberg themselves are aware of the situation because on that same page they present a series of excuses to justify this absence, which for me do not apply, since in addition to being the usual known excuses, the authors say that the book began to be thought of in 2012. So, could nothing be done in almost a decade to improve this situation? Also, the volume includes articles with examples from places like Japan, South Africa, but based on studies carried out by foreign researchers, which doesn’t seem very consistent with new critical perspectives on heritage either. I think that at this point, we should think about problems both from global scales and, fundamentally, from local ones. In this last case, paying attention to regional particularities using the discourse (and voices) of autochthonous communities themselves. This is the only way to guarantee the construction of democratic and inclusive knowledge, or why not, futures.

I say this because, as we know, within world-power systems, institutions of “prestige” – mostly unilaterally – articulate heritage policies to validate growing inequalities between regions and perpetuate status quo relations. Given that the book brings the new challenge of thinking and building parameters for considering heritage in the future (and present), other than traditional ones, I consider it a serious failure to leave out of the discussion voices from the places that suffer the most from the current system’s imbalance.

In summary, the book brings new and important reflections to help us ponder about what may constitute heritage in the future, and with that, the foundations to consolidate a more democratic and aware society. The problem is that if we exclude the participation of groups that are always peripheral or “will be included later”, the future making of heritage seems to be just a continuation of what it has always been, where the forms can change, but not the content.

Review by Alex Da Silva Martire

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

HOLTORF, Cornelius, HÖGBERG, Anders (eds.). Cultural Heritage and the Future. London; New York: Routledge /Taylor & Francis Group, 2021, 300 p.

Reviewed by Alex da Silva Martire, historian and archaeologist. Post-doc at Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Coordinator at Interactive Archaeology and Electronic Simulations (www.arise.mae.usp.br). Contact: alexmartire@gmail.com

Cultural Heritage and the Future, edited by archaeologists Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg, contains contribution of 19 authors specialized in various areas of the Humanities related to the study of heritage. It is aimed, as stated on the first page, at professionals, academics and students in the fields of museology and heritage studies, archeology, anthropology, architecture, conservation studies, sociology, history and geography. But the content of the book goes beyond these subjects and can also be read as a contribution to memory studies and indeed to Anthropocene studies.

Cultural Heritage and the Future is divided into four sections, all of which are subdivided into quick-read chapters, ranging from ten to 20 pages, on themes related to the study of heritage and, mainly, how we can get rid of the common sense that “we must preserve heritage for future generations” without thinking about what that future actually means. In this way, all the chapters, although each one dealing with its own subject, end up converging on this central theme about the concern of why and how we will transmit to the future what we currently find valuable enough to be preserved.

The four sections of the book bring many provocations, theoretical concepts and examples about the future in (and of) heritage studies. The question of future generations thought of as children is personally interesting to me. This chapter, by Sarah May, was quite provocative to me, mainly because it made me review my concepts about who we should secure the heritage for. As the author makes clear, if we “sacralize” children, it will make us lessen their roles as agents who do not need our care (as we think now), but who have their own independence, skills and concerns, in the present and in the future too. Likewise, the text by Holtorf and Högberg on the perceptions of the future present in the heritage of the Austrian city of Hallstatt made me think about how heritage will be valued when the technology of full-scale 3D replicas is good enough to produce copies of heritage which would help a lot, for example concerning rebuilding of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris or of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, both buildings destroyed by fire. However, the questions that will always remain after reading this section of the book are these: who should we print these replicas for? Would it be as important for the future as it is for the present? The section on nuclear waste makes us rethink how delicate the issue of correctly informing future generations is: the production of nuclear material today, although it has decreased, leaves traces that will not be bequeathed to five or six generations: a existence of this toxic material is long term, reaching millennia. How will future generations know about these repositories if we don’t have a constant long-term information management plan? In addition to nuclear deposits, this concern should be a constant related to any heritage, as the book emphasizes all the time. It is also interesting the point in the book that draws our attention to the fact that we tend to create an infinite list of objects that qualify as heritage, but it is necessary to filter our choices, because the physical space they will have is finite. What should we preserve? Is heritage really more important than people in the present? Should we expropriate or ban the architectural constructions that would serve the people of today due to the presence of heritage? Wouldn’t we be “damaging” the construction of the future by doing this?

Cultural Heritage and the Future challenged much I took for granted. Previously, thinking of heritage not as a past but as a future did not bother me a great deal because, as an archaeologist and educator, it was clear to me that there is a need to preserve human actions in the landscape so that future generations could have access to cultural (im)materiality. However, the questions raised in the book made me more attentive to these issues: How should we preserve? For whom should we preserve? What should we preserve? What we consider a useful asset to be safeguarded will not always be useful for the future: we have to respect and understand that future generations have a voice and agency as well. Thus, I strongly agree with one of the leitmotives of the work: the future (and the preservation of heritage) is an ongoing process.

A very negative aspect of the book, in my mind, is the total exclusion of digitization technology from the topics covered: there is no chapter that deals with the fact that we digitize heritage and, above all, that this process generates an immense amount of data that must be physically stored in some place and also need constant maintenance and updating: how are we going to deal with this problem? If, as the book suggests, not everything should be physically preserved as heritage, why don’t we digitize cultural heritage before any destruction?

The book offers very interesting examples of what heritage is and how we should deal with it (for example, the case of nuclear material deposits), but unfortunately it ignores the existence of digitization/virtualization of sites, monuments and artifacts, which for every day that passes becomes more common in areas linked to human history. Nevertheless, Cultural Heritage and the Future‘s contribution as an ensemble is invaluable to the field—a must-read and necessary for everyone who cares about the future and what we will bequeath to those who come after us.

Review by Henrik B. Lindskoug

Monday, August 30th, 2021

Cornelius Holtorf & Anders Högberg (eds) 2021 Cultural Heritage and the Future. Routledge, London & New York, xx+ 279pp. ISBN: 978-1-138-82901-5. 

Reviewed by 

Henrik B. Lindskoug, Instituto de Antropología de Córdoba-CONICET, Departamento de Antropología, Facultad de Filosofía y Humanidades, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina. E-mail: henrikblindskoug@unc.edu.ar

As archaeologists we are used to analyse the past, and we are well aware that the past is a construction in the present, but what about the future? We don’t discuss this topic to any larger extent, which is strange, since archaeology in a certain way is about gathering information about the past to next generations. However, in the last couple of years the future has emerged on the agenda in the archaeological literature (for example Reilly 2019; and various contributions in Waterton and Watson 2015) to mention just a few.

After reading Cultural Heritage and the Future edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg (2021), I have become convinced that we do not discuss the future enough. We should start asking ourselves: how do we actively engage with future making processes in our society? The archaeological practice including conservation is strongly tied with different processes to document and preserving material remains for future generations. But what do we decide to preserve and for whom?

The chapters in the book have a logical order, and the authors engage in provocative analysis in heritage and the future with highly relevant cases involving innovative interpretations and solid argumentation. In 17 chapters, divided into four sections, a range of well-known scholars from different disciplines discuss cultural heritage and the future from different standpoints and make valuable observations.

I am convinced that we must engage even further in this discussion and analyse our practices in the present to try to gain insight into the future. It can sound like an impossible task, but it is urgent, as discussed by several authors analysing nuclear waste management. These important discussions about the future are some of main strengths of the book, and, as I see it, one of the most important tasks for the new generations to come to solve this mess that we have created.

One of the weaknesses is the lack of global coverage. There are many examples especially from Europe and United States, some other parts of the world are analysed to a minor extent, such as Asia and Africa for example. Still there are no cases from Latin America whatsoever. This western/European perspective is worrying, the editors state in the introduction that they could not commission any paper of high quality from these regions. This is sad, since there is a lot of research on cultural heritage in Latin America carried out from a range of disciplines not only by archaeologists and anthropologists.

I also would have liked a greater participation from the museum sector in the book. The role of the museums in future making processes can be fundamental, and I am sure that there are many experts this sector that can contribute to this interesting and fundamental discussion on the role of cultural heritage and the future.

However, this edited volume can serve as an excellent guide to start questioning the role of the archaeological practice and heritage in future-making as analysed through different case studies. It is a great overview and, I hope that it will be essential reading to future research in the field of critical heritage studies and other related subjects. I expect that this book will generate a fruitful and healthy debate. Indeed, it is written for an academic community, but I am sure that this book will appeal to a much wider public interested in our future.

I strongly believe that we must reconsider the role of the future in archaeology and the opinions presented here can work as a fresh framework, since the book is melding different opinions and many vivid examples make the reader re-evaluate the future-making process in our society. After reading the various thought-provocative discussions by the different contributors, I am convinced that we must start to engage in these questions of what to preserve for the future in greater length. I think that the contributions in this book can serve as an excellent introduction for forthcoming studies about our cultural heritage.

Córdoba, 25 August 2021

 

References

Reilly, M. 2019. Futurity, Time, and Archaeology. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 6(1): 1–15. 

Waterton, E. and S. Watson (eds.) 2015. The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Review by Giovanni Boccardi

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg, eds (2021) Cultural Heritage and the Future. London and New York: Routledge, London.

Reviewed by Giovanni Boccardi, Rome, Italy

In their recent book on Cultural Heritage and the Future, Högberg and Holtorf shed light on an inherent contradiction of the heritage sector: allegedly working for the benefit of future generations, the stated beneficiaries of todays’ cultural heritage conservation efforts, but giving little or no consideration to what the real future might look like and what those living in it may actually need. They find this contradiction paradoxical, since the heritage sector, of all human enterprises, should be especially aware and conscious of the dynamics of history and its transformative effects on societies.

The book makes a bold claim: we cannot say for sure that future generations will continue to appreciate and need what we today consider a valuable asset, i.e. our heritage, in the same way that they will need clean air, water, food, shelter, health or peace. This goes counter the prevailing rhetoric of the authorised heritage discourse and long-standing efforts to secure heritage a legitimate place next to other sustainable development concerns. The implications of this statement are far reaching and disquieting. Perhaps, through our work as heritage professionals, we are conserving too much of our environment, or the wrong things. Perhaps our efforts will be of no use to our children and grandchildren or, worse still, actually harmful to them since, as E. Avrami puts it in one of the books’ chapters: “conservation…is a creative destruction of alternative futures”. These ideas become especially relevant, the authors argue, in a world driven by powerful change factors such as globalization, demography and climate change, suggesting, if anything, that the people of tomorrow will have very different values from those that we hold today.

Building on this premise, the book sets out to explore – through a series of stimulating chapters – how heritage work could look like if it took seriously the challenge of factoring the future in its policies and operations. Two main potential strategies are identified: 1) improving conservation practice by integrating in it “scenarios of change”, developed through a variety of foresight techniques, which would also require the development of new competencies among heritage practitioners; and/or 2) adopting new types of adaptive decision-making processes that imply periodical reviews, allow for the participation of many stakeholders and thus can “best adjust to changing conditions of the future”. An obvious example would be setting a timeframe for heritage listing, after which a reassessment should be conducted.

Högberg and Holtorf make a valid point in suggesting that the heritage sector focuses too much on the present (called “presentism” in the book) and does not give adequate consideration to long-term future scenarios. Of particular relevance, in a context of climate change and demographic growth, is the discussion about the ever-increasing accumulation of heritage stock “for future generations”, which may become unsustainable and pose a real challenge to the societies of tomorrow.

At the same time, one may argue if it would be possible, or even fair, to expect from the heritage practitioners of today a concern for a future that, as the authors admit, is far from certain. To do so, to a certain extent, betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of heritage conservation as a pure cultural construct, very much determined by the “spirit of the time”. Regardless of its claim to work for the benefits of “future generations”, indeed, heritage conservation is, and has always been, very much about the present. Since the beginning of the heritage movement, in the 19th century, its purpose reflected the urge of societies for a sense of continuity and psychological security in a radically transforming world, an urge that was – and is – felt at the present moment.

Attempts to justify our actions by inscribing them within a grand scheme of higher principles and eschatological vision are a constant of human endeavours, from the founding of cities to geographic discoveries and to religious wars. Heritage conservation, a relatively recent cultural phenomenon in human history, makes probably no exception.

One should however not take these justifications too literally. In reality heritage work serves a very present concern and reflects the visions of the past and of the future we need to live now. Ultimately, it does not really matter what the real future will turn out to be. This is a problem for those who will be there when this future comes, and at that point, as Rudolff and Buckley put very clearly (quoted in one of the chapters of the book), “the future will take care of itself”.

There might be no point, thus, in trying to make heritage future-sensitive for the sake of heritage conservation itself. For what we know, heritage is a cultural phenomenon that has emerged at one stage in history and may well disappear at some point, like certain religious cults. In fact, it would be truly interesting to explore the possible implications for heritage of a certain number of key future drivers and trends, such as migration, climate change, globalization, technological progress, pandemics, and so on, something that the book touches upon but does not address specifically.

The real question is rather whether the heritage sector is doing the right thing, at present, in order to ensure that “future generations will be able to meet their needs”, quoting Brundtland’s famous definition of 1987. Avrami’s chapter on “Sustainability, equity and pluralism”, in this regard, makes a strong and convincing case for an integration of a concern for sustainability within heritage practices and for a shift from product to processes. A related question is what the heritage sector might provide, in terms of useful lessons, to help us facing some of the toughest challenges our societies will meet. The book addresses this in its enlightening chapters on the management of radioactive waste, stored in facilities that should last for thousands of years and convey the same messages over many hundreds of generations.

Overall, “Cultural Heritage and the Future” is an important book that opens up a number of critical questions for the heritage sector and for society in general, at a time when a growing sense of an impending “discontinuity” in our history seems to define much of our debates.

June 2021