Chair on Heritage Futures

Various activities April – June 2021


Cornelius Holtorf took part in an international planning meeting of the working group on “New Heritage Approaches” within the global project “Our World Heritage” and presented some of his own ideas on heritage futures, the World Heritage Convention, and future challenges to be addressed by the global heritage sector (1 April 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf attended two seminars dedicated to ‘Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Culture‘, organised by the Italian Presidency of the G20 group of nations and opened by Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture. The seminars were addressing “The Impact of Climate Change on Cultural Heritage and Cultural Diversity” and “Culture-Based Solutions Driving Climate Action” respectively. Among the speakers was Debra Roberts, Co-chair of the Working Group II (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who emphasised a changing focus of the work of the IPCC from initially identifying hazards via a phase of understanding impacts to the present concern with solutions. These discussions mark the first time that culture and climate change have been featured at the G20 (12 April 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf presented his work on cultural heritage and some ideas on the future of the World Heritage Convention to the employees of the Swedish UNESCO Commission at the Swedish Government Offices (14 April 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg introduced and led a discussion with all partners in our project Post-Pandemic Tourism Development on “Forms and Goals of Collaboration,” focusing specifically on the future development of the local visitor economy (15 April 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf actively participated in a round table on “The archaeological now: future world building,” held digitally as part of Stanford TAG Conference from the U.S. (2 May 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf was in conversation with Nicole Deufel discussing Future Archaeology at Volkshochschule Aalen (3 May 2021). The digital event, which was attended by ca 175 participants, was part of a Studium Generale Lecture Series on Cultural Heritage and organised in collaboration with Hochschule Aalen.

Cornelius Holtorf lectured on “The Swedish Model” for nuclear waste disposal for a group of 23 students taking courses in Architecture and Applied Ethics at the University Coburg, Germany (4 May 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf presented on “A future archaeologist’s ideas about anticipatory governance” for an international project group working on a joint application, led by Roberto Poli, UNESCO Chair in Anticipatory Systems, University of Trento, Italy (6 May 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf attended a session on “Globalt samarbete i en förändrad värld” during the conference Globalt samarbete för Agenda 2030 organised by Formas (18 May 2021). Among the speakers were Per Olsson Fridh, Swedish Minister for international development; Carin Jämtin, Director General, Sida; Åsa Regnér, Assistent Director General, UN Women; and Jens Henriksson, CEO, Swedbank. I got to ask Jämtin about the significance of culture for overcoming nationalistic politics and bringing about more global solidarity. She confirmed that culture is important for the work of Sida, too.

Cornelius Holtorf gave a lecture on “Future archaeology” for a joint event of five museums in the Region Västra Götaland, broadcast simultaneously on Facebook, Vimeo and various museum homepages (21 May 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf participated in a briefing on “Culture and COP26” held as part of the run-up of the Climate Heritage Network to the 2021 UN Climate Conference (COP 26). The UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures is a member of this network (8 June 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf presented a lecture on “Cultural heritage and memory: from the past to the future” for a digital audience of 130+ at the Centre for Comparative Studies of Cultural Heritage in China and Abroad at Hangzhou Normal University, China (11 June 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf participated in the third meeting of a working group of 16 European experts writing a White Paper on “Cultural Heritage and Climate Change: New challenges and perspectives for research” in a joint initiative of JPI Cultural Heritage and JPI Climate (15 June 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf presented a lecture on “Embracing Change” for an audience of 14 researchers and research students at the Future Urban Legacy Lab, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy (17 June 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf presented on “Towards a People-Centred Approach to Selecting World Heritage Sites” and took part in a Plenary Roundtable on “Linking Archaeological Heritage to the Sustainable Development Goals” for a global audience of almost 50 colleagues attending the first day of the Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management dedicated to the theme Towards a People-centered Approach (21 June 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf participated in the first Responsible Futures Workshop, led by Ted Fuller, UNESCO Chair on Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development, UK, and Fabrice Roubelat, UNESCO Chair in Foresight and International Strategic Intelligence, France (23 June 2021).

Cornelius Holtorf participated actively and chaired one group discussion in the kick-off of the horizon scan study of the ICCROM foresight initiative (29 June 2021).

Our World Heritage


Cornelius Holtorf presented in two sessions dedicated to New Heritage Approaches, arranged in the context of the global campaign Our World Heritage.

On 14 June 2021, he presented and discussed the question “Which heritage will benefit future generations?” in a session on Modern, contemporary and future heritage, attended by a global audience of more than 40.

On 16 June 2021, he presented and discussed “Cultural Heritage Strengthening Human Resilience” in a session on Heritage Sustainability, Resilience and the Agenda 2030. The session formed concurrently part of the 6th Heritage Forum of Central Europe. 

Review by Giovanni Boccardi


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

Heritage Processes and Nuclear Waste


Cornelius Holtorf presented at the second capacity-building workshop of the Expert Group on Awareness Presentation, which is part of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Working Party on Information, Data and Knowledge Management at the OECD. Even Anders Högberg participated.

During the session, held on 14 June 2021, the 30+ participants discussed the significance of understanding human behaviour in all its complexity. In relation to mechanisms of awareness preservation we will need to shift focus: from creating to consuming, from intentions to impacts, and from assets to outcomes. This requires understanding social and cultural processes, and entering the realm of the human sciences, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc.

In each specific context anticipated, we need to be asking questions such as

  1. What’s happening?
  2. Who’s involved or affected?
  3. In what socio-cultural context?
  4. With what socio-cultural consequences?

In a second step, we need to learn how to manage processes changing over time: how can we today facilitate certain socio-cultural processes in novel futures which will be changing further with time? This will require not to be creating continuities but to be facilitating discontinuities (constituting meta-continuities). How this can be achieved is a difficult question and there are no ready answers.

All change please!


Cornelius Holtorf presented a paper on “All change please: cultural heritage and sustainability,” for a virtual conference on International collaboration in a digital era – Fostering innovative minds for the future as part of the Swedish-Japanese co-project MIRAI 2.0 (9 June 2021). One of the aims of this initiative is to strengthen collaboration between Swedish and Japanese universities.

In his talk for ca 40 attendees, Holtorf emphasised the significance of culture and cultural heritage for sustainability and innovation.  The other contributions in the Sustainability section were from the natural sciences or dealt with policy and technology concerning the natural world. The other sections of the conference were about Ageing, Artificial Intelligence, Materials Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

It is time for the humanities (and the field of culture) to enter larger contexts of discussion about important issues!

Museum directors’ view on museum-entrepreneurship


Anders Högberg published (with Marina Jogmark) a study in which they explore how Swedish museum directors think about museum-entrepreneurship.


You can find the article, in Swedish with an English abstract, in the journal Nordic Museology



Of special interest for the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures is the section on various forms of collaboration between researchers and museums. Among others, Högberg and Jogmark suggest that collaboration can develop by creating new forms for co-operation.