Chair on Heritage Futures

Notre Dame in flames…


From a human perspective, it is understandable that people feel emotional about the building of Notre Dame in flames. Since 1991, Notre Dame has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Banks of the Seine of Paris. However, as heritage experts we should not become too sentimental about what happened. Our task is to understand historical changes and transformations as they unfold and to manage the implications for the future.

It is quite conceivable that Notre Dame will be even more visited and appreciated in the future, while recovery and restoration and reconstruction work will be conducted over the coming years.

As Medievalist Dorothy Kim at Brandeis University expressed in a recent message, there is also a real possibility that “the far right is already promulgating conspiracy theories that this is basically the work of religious outsiders (i.e. Islamaphobia and Antisemitism) and that the burning of Notre Dame is a sign that western civilization and the values of the Christian West are under attack.” So, let us not commiserate ourselves too much for the loss to Western civilization or Christianity or Medieval Catholicism or French culture.

As Kim argued, the unexpected fire in Notre Dame should be seen as our opportunity to reinvent the church for the future. Let’s make this heritage into a monument of our resilience to overcome challenges together.

Whether we are Parisians or Christians or heritage experts or tourists or other interested audiences from around the world, the church can come to symbolise a shared determination to look forward to where all those valuing the building want to go together. Let us remember that the purpose of the World Heritage programme is first and foremost to contribute to UNESCO’s overarching aim to build peace in the world.

Heritage, nuclear waste & the future…


Cornelius Holtorf gave a keynote lecture on the topic “Cultural heritage, nuclear waste and the future: what’s in it for us?” for more than 50 participants attending a symposium on “Bewaren of weggooien?” [To keep or to let go?], held by Zeeuwse Ankers at COVRA near Middelburg, Netherlands (13 April 2019). A report about the day is now available here (in Dutch) and here (in English).

In the lecture he argued that many people might like to preserve precious cultural heritage for the benefit of future generations but are more than willing to let go of our present abundance of nuclear waste with its inherent risks to human health. But we may just as well look at this the other way around. Cultural heritage is not scarce and poses many risks to human wellbeing, as it has often been playing a significant role in intensifying bloody cultural conflicts. Nuclear waste, on the other hand, may very well emerge as a precious resource, e.g. when it helps future generations to learn about the history of nuclear power and the emergence and successes of the environmental movement. In the presentation, he also give concrete examples for mutual benefits to be gained from both sectors collaborating and discussed the significance of such collaboration for reaching sustainable development goals in the future.


Preserving the past, shaping the future


The Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK published a feature about the exhibition in Manchester deriving from the Heritage Futures project that recently ended. The main message of the project is this:

We can’t be certain what the future will be like, but … we can at least try to ensure that the decisions we make today help provide people with the things they might need and want in the future

The exhibition and an associated Heritage Futures Studio will run at Manchester Museum until 2021. Go and visit!