Chair on Heritage Futures

Futures of Education and cultural resilience


Among the 50 think pieces in UNESCO’s new volume on the futures of education is a short essay by Cornelius Holtorf on Enhancing cultural resilience by learning to appreciate change and transformation. The volume is part of UNESCO’s new Futures of Education initiative.

In the contribution, Holtorf argues, among others, that shifting the narrative on cultural heritage from one of conservation and loss to a continuous process of change and transformation can build cultural resilience, i.e. the ability of cultural systems to absorb adversity. Cultural heritage in all its rich variety manifests change over time. Learning to understand cultural heritage increasingly in those terms will facilitate our capability of adapting legacies of the past to changing circumstances both today and in the future.

The article and the volume in its entirety are accessible here. A French version is available here. The project is supported by the Swedish government through its development agency SIDA.

UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures


A mix of committed individuals from different countries, with different specialisms and at different stages in their careers.

All seven members of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures met on 21-22 January 2020 at Linnaeus University in Kalmar to exchange views and experiences on relevant issues and to launch the second phase of their work for which they will intensify joint discussions.

Photograph by Johannes Rydström/LNU.

New Working Party at the OECD


On 15 and 16 January, Anders Högberg participated in the kick-off meeting of the Working Party on Information, Data and Knowledge Management (WP-IDKM) at the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris.

The focus of this new OECD-initiative is on issues related to the keeping of information and knowledge required to inform future generations about the location and content of nuclear waste repositories. Together with delegates from several European countries, Japan and the US, he contributed to defining the directions for the coming three years of work within this initiative.

Grow your own cloud!


Here for an interesting project that promises to store all of our data for an unlimited future by drawing on organic technology.

The method draws on principles of natural heritage and saves data (including cultural heritage) by emitting O2 while cutting down on CO2, thus contributing to saving the planet ….

Curious? You should be! More information is available here.

The criticism of Trump´s threat to hit cultural sites in Iran is not sustainable


When Trump recently threatened to target cultural sites in Iran in future military attacks, the outcry of heritage organizations around the world was enormous.

Attacking cultural targets is not only against international law but also against deeply felt values that separate the realm of culture from the realm of legitimate military action. It has been pointed out that the US government does not have major disagreements with the Iranian people (and their culture) but merely with the politics of the Iranian government.

Similar sentiments have been rehearsed many times before, for example when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in 2001 and, more recently, when the Islamic State destroyed various ancient structures of Palmyra in Syria in 2015.

When cultural sites are targeted in military conflicts their sustainability is threatened. Hence the opposition of all the many organizations that agree on the importance of culture and cultural sites for people in Iran as elsewhere. But the question is whether the dominant understandings of culture that are reflected in the widespread criticism of Trump’s threat are sustainable either.

There are two problems in particular with the campaign to safeguard Iranian cultural sites. The first problem is that it essentializes the Iranian people. It assumes that there is only one culture in Iran uniting all its citizens. However, in reality people have different cultural preferences in Iran as much as anywhere else. It is not appropriate to assume that all 80 million Iranians share the same (one assumes traditional) culture when this is neither empirically likely to be the case nor what many Iranians themselves may want. Clearly, we need to recognize and indeed promote that people in Iran live their lives with different cultural preferences. But it is unclear whether in practice we are campaigning to safeguard all cultural preferences in Iran or only some.

The second problem is defending cultural sites in Iran essentializes Iranian culture. It assumes that culture in Iran is necessarily distinct from culture in the US or anywhere else. In reality however, very many people anywhere in the world share by now much more culture with each other than what divides them. They may have different mother tongues and live in different homes but they like to watch many of the same movies, listen to much of the same music, enjoy many of the same video games, tv programs, and sports, even consume some of the same food and beverages, etc. So those who insist that Iranian cultural sites must be saved, what do they mean: Iranian digital infrastructure? Iranian movie theaters? Iranian sports arenas and shopping malls? Even the biggest religions have global distributions.

When Trump threatened to target cultural sites, he intended to provoke Iranian politicians and presumably the entire world. In doing so he also meant to reaffirm the belief that Iranians are culturally distinct from Americans (and others), and that all Iranians share one joint culture. These are not sustainable assumptions if you have faith in cultural freedom for everybody and if you are aware of the many cultural preferences that today unite so many people in the world with each other.

Trump may not like to see that most Iranians really are in many ways like all of us. Let us be free to disagree with him on this point, too.

Historians on the future


I am reading what historians have got to say about the future. Robin G. Collingwood (1956: 54) famously stated that

“The historian’s business is to know the past, not to know the future, and whenever historians claim to be able to determine the future in advance of its happening we may know with certainty that something has gone wrong with their fundamental conception of history.”

Behind this pessimism appears to be a rather narrow view of historians’ working methods, as Collingwood expressed elsewhere:

“We cannot know the future, just because the future has not happened and therefore cannot leave its traces in the present. The historian who tries to forecast the future is like a tracker anxiously peering at a muddy road in order to descry the footsteps of the next person who is going to pass that way.” (Collingwood 2009: 247-8)

But as a matter of fact, the past is not happening now either but exactly as the name suggests: past. The present contains clues of both past and future deserving to be studied, analyzed and interpreted in equal measure, says David Staley:

“We gain access to the future through a similar means by which we gain access to the past: indirectly, through an examination of evidence. […] Like evidence of the past, evidence of the future makes some future state or condition evident. If we wish to inquire into the future, we have little choice but to examine objects and processes that exist in the present, for all evidence—of both past and future—resides in the present.” (Staley 2007: 58)

Past and future are both equally material and elusive, real and imagined. Indeed, they are not polar opposites but closely connected. In the end, I am with Zoltán Simon who recently reminded his fellow historians that

“history – the very possibility of history – begins with the formulation of a vision of the future, that is, with the postulation of a future different from the present and the past.” (Simon 2018: 198)


Collingwood, Robin G. (1994) The Idea of History [1946]. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Collingwood, Robin G. (2009) Oswald Spengler and the Theory of Historical Cycles [1927]. In: A. Budd (ed.) The Modern Historiography Reader. Western Sources, pp. 245-250. London and New York: Routledge.

Simon, Zoltán B. (2018) History Begins in the Future. On Historical Sensibility in the Age of Technology. In: S. Helgesson and J. Svenungsson (eds) The Ethos of History: Time and Responsibility, pp. 192-209. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

Staley, David J. (2007) History and Future. Using Historical Thinking to Imagine the Future. Plymouth: Lexington.

Special issue on Heritage Futures


A new issue of the International Journal of Heritage Studies is dedicated to Anticipating Loss: Rethinking Endangerment in Heritage Futures (all accessible in open access).

From the introduction of the co-editors:

“Heritage relies, to a large extent, on notions of endangerment and consequential attempts to arrest or reverse processes of loss and change. The papers in this special issue engage critically with this underlying orientation…”

In addition to Sarah May, the authors include Caitlin DeSilvey, Rodney Harrison, Trinidad Rico, Nadia Bartolini, Esther Breithoff, Jennie Morgan, Sharon Macdonald, and Þóra Pétursdóttir.