Chair on Heritage Futures

Review by Kate Croll


Our book

Holtorf, C. and Högberg, A. (eds). 2021. Cultural Heritage and the Future. New York: Routledge. 279 pp. ISBN 978-1-138-82901-5 (paperback).

has been reviewed by Kate Croll, Dept of Anthropology, Archaeology and Development Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Her review has now been published in South African Archaeological Bulletin 78 (219), 2023, 123-125.

Among others, she writes:

“Ultimately, this book is a useful reference for all heritage
practitioners – from archaeologists to heritage site managers –
since it provides a guide for how to think about the future in a
broad sense: that it is changeable and fluid, and that the way
we think about heritage today should be equally flexible.”

Review by Sergiu Musteata


Professor Dr. Sergiu Musteata, History and Geography Faculty, “Ion Creanga” State University, Chișinău, Moldova reviewed our book Cultural Heritage and the Future (Holtorf and Högberg 2021) in the Romanian journal Plural 10 (1), 2022, 177-181. Contact address for the author: sergiu_musteata@yahoo.com

Here are some excerpts machine-translated into English:

“The introductory part, the coordinators of the volume note that the research of the future and its relationship with cultural heritage is quite a field again and started to be addressed only a few years ago. The need for one such research comes from the circumstances to which the world is exposed today – rapid changes in all spheres of life, uncertain future, etc. … The collection of studies is practical the fruit of the effort of an international team for ten years that comes with an authentic, innovative and critical approach to a topic that deserves much attention greater, both from academic and political circles. …

“In conclusion, we highlight the fact that practically all authors noted that inheritance culture and the future are closely linked and that it should be a priority for the academic environment, for young people and for all those who are active in the fields of museography, cultural heritage, archaeology, anthropology, architecture, conservation, restoration, sociology, history, geography, etc. The present volume contributes to a better understanding of the relationship between the future and cultural heritage, which is an under-researched area. Because, cultural heritage and cultural heritage management must occupy a distinct place in the construction of a sustainable future. … Although the volume does not cover all aspects of cultural heritage and its relationship with the future, I am sure that this work will contribute to a better and wider research on the role of cultural heritage in building strategies and processes of the future. That is why I recommend this collection of studies not only to experts in the fields of cultural heritage, but also politicians and other professional categories who are concerned with the future of humanity. Because only through one approach visionary and interdisciplinary we can achieve the expected results, he anticipates certain risks, increase the confidence and security of the citizen, plan and build a sustainable future based on cultural heritage.”

The full review is available here.

Review by Patricia Brum


Echoes of Eternity: Cultural heritage and the future (co-edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg, Routledge 2021)

Reviewed by Patricia Brum, researcher at História, Territórios e Comunidades – CFE NOVA FCSH, Portugal. Email: patriciabrum@fcsh.unl.pt

The book Cultural heritage and the future, published during the pandemic in 2021, is a first contribution for this 21st century research topic, which has already led to the establishment of the Unesco Chair on Heritage Futures in 2017.

Although not concerned with the future of cultural heritage per se, several authors stress the importance of including the future in heritage studies. Cultural heritage studies have not been entirely unaware of what is to come. Sustainability, heritage risk assessment, the effects of climate change on cultural heritage, and the disposal of archaeological finds due to lack of space are some of the future-related topics being discussed in heritage.

As defined by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Hogberg, the co-editors of this volume, “Heritage Futures are concerned with the roles of heritage in managing the relations between the present and future societies” (p.144). After all, if heritage practitioners tend to justify their work as important for future generations, one may ask how much they are really incorporated in their work. Most authors’ background is in archaeology, as dealing directly with tangible heritage is very much part of this subject. Yet this book does not focus on tangible heritage alone. Several articles are dedicated to intangible cultural heritage, such as that from Luo Li, one of the non-archaeologists among the authors. In the future, the perspective of experts with additional specialisms of heritage theorization should be invited to further the debate. After all, historians, art historians and architects also deal with built heritage and the latter already tend to have less traditional/conservative views, integrating many times the past in new constructions and dealing more with the reflexion of what from the past can be kept or is useful for the future, although sometimes disregarding completely what the past has to offer for the future.

One can argue that the already wide diversity of what is considered heritage in this book, defined right in the beginning as “what reminds people of the past, tangible or intangible, predominantly cultural but also natural” (p. 2), has different layers of integrating “future thinking”. It is noteworthy that it is not the same dealing with the future in the case of the Acropolis (p.  168), a UNESCO World Heritage site, as in the case of Salvation Mountain (p. 96). Searching through the examples given in this book, it seems sensible to use those from World Heritage Sites. As such, the article by Rosemary Joyce is paramount, proving that it is possible to discuss heritage futures in the context of the most highly regarded heritage. The detailed example of the Orfordness Lighthouse by Caitlin DeSilvey explains very clearly the processes of heritage: how worries of the future are present in heritage and a concern for communities. The editors’ effort to ensure global geographical distribution of contributors and examples is noteworthy, although they themselves recognize this attempt as incomplete.

A specific section within the larger theme being presented is about existing projects dealing with space and nuclear heritage. Radioactive waste is often presented as cultural heritage in this book, even though no archaeologist opposes to such a classification for a Roman garbage dump or an islamic pit. One could argue that the real debate is whether garbage of our present or recent past will be treated as we treat heritage today.

It is hard to predict how heritage will evolve and even if this is not the goal of this collection of articles, this book is a contribution to incorporating thinking the future in a field which is traditionally associated only with the past. How do heritage practitioners include the future in their work? Does heritage legislation allow change? “Could the heritage sector improve its capacity to think the future?” (p. 2); “how can heritage conservation empower future generations to be agents of change rather the stewards of the past?” (p. 198); “how might heritage provide the continuity necessary for the formation of stable identities?” (p. 254). This book opens the way for many more questions to come and as such is a hopeful and much needed volume.

(A  Portuguese version of this review was published in Almadan online, July 2022.)

Review by Kate Croll


Holtorf, C. and Högberg, A. (eds). 2021. Cultural Heritage and the Future. New York: Routledge. 279 pp. ISBN 978-1-138-82901-5 (paperback).

Reviewed by Kathryn D. Croll, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Email: crollkathryn@gmail.com .

As an archaeologist from a developing country with a background in heritage management, I was intrigued by this book for two reasons: how heritage practitioners elsewhere think of and conceptualize the future and, what this book could add to heritage management and preservation in Africa. The editors acknowledge a crucial flaw in the book in the introduction – that significant areas of the world are not represented in the book. Indeed, almost all of the case studies presented are from the developed world which is in a position to be future-facing and able to think of future heritages. However, the concepts and initiatives raised in this book can be applied to multiple contexts and multiple heritages.

The first section of the book is critical of treating heritage as a “gift” to the future because this treatment assumes that future generations will be “grateful” to us for preserving heritage. Rather, we cannot know what future generations would want from heritage, if anything at all. This book also raises important questions, such as why a specific piece of heritage should be preserved for future generations. In trying to answer these kinds of questions, it is stressed that there is no, and can be no, one-size-fits-all scenario. It is also emphasized that viewing heritage preservation as being on a continuum and developing conjunctive heritage preservation strategies are important for building a framework for “future heritage”.

The inclusion of intangible and living heritage in discussion of future heritage is essential as it is through these kinds of heritage that heritage is formed and continually produced and reproduced. The discussion around Chinese living heritage by Li (Chapter 4) provides a different (i.e. non-Western) perspective on heritage creation and production and shows that the different heritage sectors should learn from each other and use each other’s knowledge to aid with curating heritage for the future.

The criticism by Gonzalez-Ruibal (Chapter 5) that developed countries excessively curate, list and plan preservation and conservation of heritage sites is refreshing, as is the assertion that heritage (both tangible and intangible) is being rapidly destroyed in war-torn countries (which tend to be developing countries). The inundation of the UNESCO world heritage sites list with sites from developed countries reinforces the idea that the West is more developed and more capable of heritage protection. Gonzalez-Ruibal’s suggestion that we allow heritage sites to undergo change and renewal makes space for thinking of multiple futures and allows for more flexible management that is able to adapt to different futures and different future generations’ perspectives on heritage. This ties in with Dixon’s (Chapter 6) study on incomplete or unfinished buildings which at times can represent uncertainty in societies – these unfinished structures, modern or historical, can be used or reused today and in the future and need not be left unfinished or unused.

The third part of the book deals with ‘Armageddon heritage’ – heritage that has been created as a result of Cold War fears as well as heritage in the form of nuclear waste. The consideration of nuclear waste and its safe disposal ties in with concepts of treating heritage on a continuum and as renewable and that meanings and values ascribed to heritage (both tangible and intangible) shift and change over time. The suggestion by Joyce (Chapter 11) that we heritage professionals “operate with the assumption that people are universally concerned with their futures, including distant ones” is important because, as I have already stated, not everyone is in the position to consider the future, especially when the present is difficult enough. This assumption is also one that heritage practitioners operating in developing countries need to consider when developing heritage preservation and conservation plans because the needs of the present may outweigh the needs of the future.

This theme of the consideration of current and future needs runs through this book and is particularly apparent in the last part of the book. The final section deals with sustainability and the fluidity of the future and heritage. The idea that heritage should both serve the needs of people today and tomorrow is critical, and the final chapters emphasize that protecting heritage needs to be sustainable and cater to multiple possible needs of the future – if at all possible.

Ultimately, this book is a useful guide to all heritage practitioners from archaeologists to heritage site managers because it provides a guide for how to think about the future in a broad sense – that it is changeable and fluid and that the way we think about heritage today should be as well. Grounding heritage future thinking in studies from other fields which are already looking into how the future is formulated will allow for better articulation of future thinking. Lastly, more case studies from a broader range of countries and contexts would be a useful addition to heritage future thinking. As it stands, the book is lacking indigenous perspectives on heritage conservation and protection but the concepts and initiatives raised in this book regarding the future of heritage should lead to more studies and the inclusion of other perspectives. Importantly, thinking of heritage as fluid and changeable allows for the applicability of future-thinking in multiple heritage contexts.

Review by Stanley J. Onyemechalu


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

Reviewed by Stanley J. Onyemechalu, PhD student in Heritage, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge; Assistant Lecturer in Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Nigeria; E-mail: stanley.onyemechalu@unn.edu.ng .

The book is an edited volume with contributions by respected authors from different disciplines discussing the connections between cultural heritage and the future – ‘heritage futures’. In 17 chapters split within four sections, the book aims to build “capacity in futures thinking and futures literacy among researchers and practitioners throughout the heritage sector” (p. xix). Ipso facto, I expected to read how it explored the relationship between cultural heritage and a very much uncertain future, especially in the face of rising tensions and unending conflicts. If heritage is this process of negotiating what to inherit from the past for use in the present and what to transmit from the present to the future, what then is the ‘future’ of communities whose process of inheritance/bequeathing have been truncated by violent conflict (civil wars, colonialism, slavery) or natural disasters? Prott (1997) reminds us that, in the face of war and violence, the first and foremost desire of humans is to get safety for themselves and family; every other thing [read: tangible heritage] is secondary and often neglected. The book fails to properly engage case studies representative of communities in ‘unstable’ regions, where cultural heritage is at a higher risk of being misused, abused, weaponised or destroyed. Makes one wonder if ‘futures thinking’ in heritage is a privileged exercise exclusive to those who live in communities with relatively ‘stable presents’ – which is not much of the world.

In addition to the usual perseveration with tangible heritage case studies (e.g., UNESCO’s World Heritage List), the book tries to cover ‘new’ bases in heritage futures (see chapters 9, 10 & 12). The book also makes references to intangible heritage but not as in-depth as I expected. Not doing so, again, excludes certain communities, like in Africa, where oral history, beliefs and traditional creative processes are ascribed higher value and are better preserved than material objects (Onyemechalu & Ugwuanyi, 2021; Mire, 2007). Bringing back my earlier point about the incidences of conflicts and instability in many regions of the world, Holtorf (2015) in Avrami (chapter 13) notes that “physical loss does not necessarily curtail the functioning of cultural heritage”. Hence, intangible heritage – which is able to sustain the functioning of cultural heritage in the face of physical loss – is the soul of ‘heritage futures’. This means that learning about other cultures’ prioritisation of intangible heritage may afford an opportunity to formulate a wholistic and sustainable plan for cultural heritage futures. In doing so, we may not have to worry about limited spatial and conservation resources occasioned by “unending world heritage listings” (Avrami, chapter 13).

This book unfortunately lacks contributions from African and other under-represented communities. The book editors themselves acknowledged the underrepresentation of case studies from “significant parts of the world” (p. 2) and welcomed critics and other scholars to contribute to this all-important ongoing conversation. On the bright side, the book engages heritage futures with the notions of atemporality (Graves-Brown, chapter 15) and ephemerality (DeSilvey, chapter 14) in interesting ways that can shed light on the realities of many communities in the global south and their approaches to heritage. Futures making or planning within critical heritage studies should be inclusive of other voices and experiences, lest it fails to be different from the past – creating ‘difficult futures’.

Often, the discussions about the future of heritage assumes that there will be an episodic end to the present humanity and the beginning of an entirely new humanity that will meet what we have ‘kept’ for them. However, there is no clear-cut line separating one human generation from the other. The book notes the uncertainty in whether the heritage we are racing to preserve will be seen by the future generations as a gift or a burden (May, Chapter 3), but struggles to define who makes up the ‘future generation’. Is it children now, or are the ones yet unborn? Are we referring to tomorrow, next year, next decade or the next century? Where should our plans for the ‘future’ of heritage end, and why? Is it definable? These are the kinds of questions that this book set out to explore, which it did quite satisfactorily (especially in sections 1 on the future in heritage studies and heritage management & section 4 on heritage and future-making). This book reminds us that: though we cannot change the past, we can change the way it is remembered in the present; though we cannot change the future, as it were, we can try to leave a template for its change. Plans for the future of cultural heritage should not be cast in stone or locked up in vaults but should be easily accessible, amenable and open-ended. That is, allowing future generations the opportunity to exert their own will and agency over their past, present and future.

This book talks about the future of heritage in the same way that people talk about the future of the earth and climate change – since the tragedy of climate change is the destruction of heritage. While I agree that heritage is a “futuristic field”, as the book declares, it seems as though a lot of the debates about heritage futures in this book dwell too much on the future and what/how we bequeath than on the present and what/how we inherit. The notion of utility in heritage (Smith, 2006; Ugwuanyi & Schofield, 2018) is instructive here as it ensures that more caution is taken with talks about heritage futures. Our preoccupation with the future might lead to the ‘suffering’ of the present. Across many cultures, the past is embodied in elders and the future in children. That means that we can look to the children now as our insight into the more uncertain, distant future. This book superbly does this in chapter 3. We spend so much energy trying to be ‘good ancestors’, how about we strive to be ‘good descendants’ first? (Hicks, 2021).

This book may not quite contain what you expect – as it is not primarily about the future of heritage – but it is undoubtedly a significant text for anyone interested in exploring the interconnections between cultural heritage and the future.


Hicks, D. (2021) “Is a decolonial historical archaeology possible?” Keynote Address for the 2021 Australian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) Online Conference. https://asha.org.au/2021-asha-conference/

Mire, S. (2007). Preserving knowledge, not objects: A Somali perspective for heritage management and archaeological research. The African Archaeological Review, 24 (3/4), 49-71. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40743448.

Onyemechalu, J. S. and Ugwuanyi, J. K. (2021). Íhé Ńkètá and Òkè: concepts and practice of indigenous cultural heritage management in the Igbo cultural area of south-eastern Nigeria. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCHMSD-12-2020-0177.

Prott, L. V. (1997). Principles for the resolution of disputes concerning cultural heritage displaced during the second world war. In E. Simpson (Ed.) The Spoils of War. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc.

Smith, L. (2006). Uses of Heritage (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203602263

Ugwuanyi, J. K. and Schofield, J. (2018) Permanence, temporality and the rhythms of life: Exploring significance of the village arena in Igbo culture. World Archaeology, 60 (1), 7 – 22. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2018.1473164

A revised version of this review was published in Antiquity 2022.

Review by Gilmara Benevides


HOLTORF, Cornelius, HÖGBERG, Anders (eds.) Cultural Heritage and the Future. London/New York: Routledge, 2021.

Reviewed by Gilmara Benevides, PhD. Professor of Law at Faculdades Integradas do Ceará (UniFIC), Brazil. E-mail: gilmara.benevides@yahoo.com.br.

The field of Cultural Heritage Studies is vast, multidisciplinary and diversified. The issues are usually rooted in events that took place in the past and the interpretation of the consequences of these events in the present time. However, in the book Cultural Heritage and the Future, nineteen authors chosen among academics and experts in the areas of human and social sciences enter into the association between cultural heritage and the future, through different theoretical analyses on heritage management and conservation, archaeological theory and political archeology.

The preface and introduction are written by the book’s editors, archaeologists Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg. Following on from the introduction “Cultural heritage as a futuristic field”, the book is divided into four sections: “The future in heritage studies and heritage management” (Section 1); “The future in cultural heritage” (Section 2); “Re-thinking heritage futures” (Section 3) and “Heritage and future-making” (Section 4). The book contains seventeen short chapters and ends with “Final Reflections: The Future of Heritage”. The book is designed to reach academics and students in the fields of cultural heritage studies, museums, archeology, anthropology, architecture, conservation, sociology, history and geography.

Despite bringing case studies from various parts of the world (Europe, China, Japan, North America, South Africa, Australia and others), the book is based on the scientific understanding of “cultural heritage” and the “future” as per the worldviews of mostly Western researchers, aware that their research will reach an academic audience that is largely found in the countries of the Global North (developed countries). Particularly, as a Brazilian historian, anthropologist and jurist who studies cultural heritage, I was interested in reading the book after learning that one of the book’s editors – Cornelius Holtorf – had published an article in Revista de Arqueologia, a scientific journal in Brazil and is known by renowned researchers in Brazil such as Rita Poloni and Pedro Funari.

Specifically, Rodney Harrison’s article, “Heritage practices as future-making practices”, on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) caught my attention. In my view, global food shortages are already an urgent problem for current generations. Here, in this study, it is possible to see that there is already some anticipatory seed storage strategy, whose ultimate goal is to maintain duplicates of seeds for the long-term conservation of a genetic bank of plants all over the planet. Brazil, a country known for its great natural wealth and biodiversity, has already sent three batches of seeds to the SGSV between 2014 and 2020.

On the other hand, it is clear that there are specific artifacts left behind that, despite being symbols of human futuristic progress, cause countless problems today that still do not have a long-term solution. For example: space junk, according to the discussion in “Future visions and the heritage of space: Nostalgia for infinity” – a very interesting dialogue between Alice Gorman and Sarah May. The excess of artifacts can go from being a cultural asset to being a disaster for the future.

In turn, nuclear waste is seen as a particular kind of cultural heritage of the future, as revealed by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg in “What lies ahead? Nuclear waste as cultural heritage of the future”. Radioactive heritage is also an object under analysis in “Radioactive heritage of the future: A legacy of risk”, by Marcos Buser, Abraham Van Luik, Roger Nelson and Cornelius Holtorf. In a very specific way, these two articles dialogue with each other and bring a warning about the dangers of this legacy for the next generations, although without imposing a tone of apocalyptic prediction. After all, no one can predict how future generations will manage this waste.

In the last chapter, “Final Thoughts: The Future of Heritage”, Anders Högberg and Cornelius Holtorf discuss the results of an earlier study in which they conducted more than 60 interviews with professionals in the cultural heritage sector. The study showed that professionals found it difficult to think about what kind of future they were working on. Instead, they held back in the present, in the short term, given the lack of opportunities to think about the future at a deeper level. They concluded that this difficulty stemmed from the lack of shared professional strategies on “how to deal with the future in heritage management or how to think about the future of heritage”.

As an alternative, Högberg and Holtorf present some possible strategies: the first is a way of applying “expiry dates” to future decisions about cultural heritage in the short, medium or long term. The second possible strategy focuses on “empowering future generations” in various ways.

As for the third possibility, it concerns the future of heritage and education. The idea of ​​creating a curriculum for cultural heritage specialists struck me as very interesting. I was completely ignorant of the idea of ​​“futures literacy ”, so I needed to get extra information about this concept, elaborated by Riel Miller.

The concept of “futures literacy” has been developed within UNESCO as one of the competences for the 21st century: “the universally accessible skill that builds on the innate human capacity to imagine the future, offers a clear, field tested solution to poverty-of-the-imagination.” The use of this concept seemed very adequate, with regard to the future of heritage and education.

Finally, it is possible to say that the book Cultural Heritage and the Future, despite bringing together intellectuals from different areas, has a considerable balance of ideas. Perhaps, in the near future, Anders Högberg and Cornelius Holtorf will feel the need to elaborate a new book, this time about the future of heritage post-2020, to think about the future of heritage from this new collective perspective.

Review by Carlos Jaramillo


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


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


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


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.