Chair on Heritage Futures

Heritage futures question the status quo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Re-imagining heritage


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

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

“A Cultural Deal for Europe”


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

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

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

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


Memory across generations


Our work concerning memory across generations has found its way into the 2020 Report of the Swedish Nuclear Waste Council to the Swedish Government (Swedish Government Inquiries, SOU 2020:9). The report was first published earlier this year in Swedish but is now also available in English.

The report contains in chapter 7 over several pages a summary of the results of our Workshop “Information and memory for future decision making – radioactive waste and beyond” held in May 2019 in Stockholm.

Post-corona archaeology


My recent Keynote “Post-Corona Archaeology: Creating a New Normal?” at the 2020 EAA Annual Meeting’s Opening Ceremony is now available online in written form in the new issue 66 of The European Archaeologist.

I propose three lessons for post-corona archaeology:

  1. Let’s take the future seriously and do our best to ensure that archaeology actually contributes to sustainable development that will benefit future generations in concrete ways.
  2. Let’s go beyond the notion of cultural diversity and focus on what people shared and indeed share, promoting trust, solidarity and collaboration between human beings on this planet.
  3. Let’s realise more often the value of culture, cultural heritage and archaeological practice to be inclusive and bring people together, promoting peace among humans both in society and between societies.

The recorded presentation is available on youtube (starts at 48:30)

Progress in high-level nuclear waste management?


Cornelius Holtorf attended an international expert roundtable on progress in high-level radioactive waste management and the sustainability of nuclear energy, chaired by William Magwood, Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD.
The top global decision-makers attending the meeting (including Rita Baranwal, the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the US Dept of Energy) seem to agree that the biggest problem the sector is facing does not relate to the technical solutions available but to public and stakeholder confidence in solutions applying across extreme timescales.

What they have not yet considered sufficiently is that future people’s behaviour may undo even the most well-intended technical solutions. That is where the humanities need to come in for gaining a better understanding of what people (might) do and why…

World heritage futures in Karlskrona


Cornelius Holtorf held a full-day World Heritage Workshop in Karlskrona. Joining up with the Director of the Museum of Blekinge region, two Heads of Department and two education professionals, they discussed in detail development prospects and possibilities for a planned World Heritage Museum and its many associated activities in the light of global trends in the cultural heritage sector.

From left to right: Ola Palmgren (pedagogue), Christoffer Sandahl (Head of Collections), Maja Heuer (Head of Public Unit), Marcus Sandekjer (Director), Cornelius Holtorf, Charlotte Nordheim (Project coordinator and pedagogue). The two old guys in the background remained silent during the day.