Chair on Heritage Futures

Our Common Agenda


UN Secretary-General António Guterres has now published a report “Our Common Agenda” which contains his recommendations in the light of the UN Initiative Shaping Our Future Together launched on the occasion of the United Nations’ 75th birthday in 2020.

Under the title “Our Common Agenda” he argued that now is the time …

  1. to re-embrace global solidarity and find new ways to work together for the common good.
  2. to renew the social contract between Governments and their people and within societies, so as to rebuild trust and embrace a comprehensive vision of human rights.
  3. to end the “infodemic” plaguing our world by defending a common, empirically backed consensus around facts, science and knowledge.
  4. to correct a glaring blind spot in how we measure economic prosperity and progress. When profits come at the expense of people and our planet, we are left with an incomplete picture of the true cost of economic growth.
  5. to think for the long term, to deliver more for young people and succeeding generations and to be better prepared for the challenges ahead.
  6. for a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system, anchored within the United Nations

Among others, Guterres recommends to hold a Summit of the Future to forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like, and what we can do today to secure it.

Much of this agenda is closely relate to the aims of our UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures. But it is striking that the entire report “Our Common Agenda” does not recognise the significance of culture (not to mention cultural heritage) in achieving these aims!

Culture is about how people make sense of the world, how they identify, whom they trust, what they value, which norms they follow. How strange that the UN has not yet discovered its significance!

Collaboration with Korea


A Memorandum of Understanding has now been signed by the two Deans of the College of Cultural Heritage at Korea National University of Cultural Heritage and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Linnaeus University.

In the MoU the two sides expressed their intention to collaborate in the following ways:

  1. Exchange of students, faculty members/researchers and administrative staff,
  2. Joint lectures, seminars, and conferences,
  3. Collaborative academic research/teaching projects and activities.

The MoU is the result of a visit by a delegation from Korea to the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University in 2019.

Framtidsmedvetande inom kulturarvssektorn


Gustav Wollentz (NCK) diskuterar frågan “Hur kan vi öka framtidsmedvetandet inom kulturarvssektorn?” på EPALE (Europeisk plattform för vuxnas lärande). Hans slutsats:

Det går att konkludera att ett utökat framtidsmedvetande är en kompetens som man kan lära sig, och som sannolikt kommer bli alltmer betydelsefull både specifikt inom kulturarvssektorn och även i samhället i stort. På många vis är det nödvändigt för att faktiskt kunna möta de utmaningar som samhället står inför.

Gustavs forskning genomfördes med stöd av, och i samarbete med Unescoprofessuren om Heritage Futures.

Progress Report 09/2020-08/2021


This report covers the fourth year for which the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University was originally established in 2017. During the entire year, the team continued to work under the spell of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which meant a drastic cut of travelling and a similarly drastic increase of virtual meetings hosted around the world.

A particular highlight of the year was the publication by Routledge of the book Cultural Heritage and the Future (co-edited by C. Holtorf and A. Högberg, 2021).

At the end of the year, the research group received the excellent news that the Chair has been renewed by UNESCO for another four years.

Please get in touch if you have any comments or suggestions.

Cornelius Holtorf, Professor of Archaeology and holder of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures

Read more and download the report

Progress Report 2020-2021

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.

Radiation Safety Authority follows


In the new report “Redovisning av regeringsuppdrag om metoder för säkerställande av information och kunskap över lång tid för slutförvaret för kärnbränsle” (SSM rapport 2021:24), the Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority has been documenting known methods for achieving long-term memory in relation to nuclear waste repositories.

The report makes reference to the key literature and documentation in the field globally, while also discussing the specific situation in Sweden. We have long been in touch with the two authors Carl-Henrik Pettersson and Annika Bratt, and so it is not surprising that the work of Linnaeus University on this topic, both in Sweden and internationally, is mentioned on several occasions. This includes in particular a short separate discussion of the 2019 workshop Information and Memory for Future Decision-Making – Radioactive Waste and Beyond run by the Swedish Nuclear Waste Council in Stockholm and the VINNOVA project on Memory Across Generations it led to. There is also a short discussion of our research project Ett hundra tusen år bakom och framåt i tiden – arkeologi möter kärnbränsleförvaring supported by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co back in 2012-2015.

We are still very involved in these issues, at the moment mostly as part of an expert group at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency.

Lessons from heritage for nuclear waste disposal sites


Cornelius Holtorf presented a paper by him together with Anders Högberg at the Interdisciplinary research symposium on the safety of nuclear disposal practices: Technical and Social Approaches to Managing the Hazardous Legacy of Nuclear Power Generation (10-12 Nov 2021) arranged by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management in Germany (BASE).

The paper was entitled “Lessons from archaeology and heritage studies for the long-term preservation of records, knowledge and memory concerning deep geological disposal sites for nuclear waste” and its abstract is available as part of the conference proceedings at https://sand.copernicus.org/articles/1/287/2021/.

Forum Kulturarv


Cornelius Holtorf and Helena Rydén represented the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at the Cultural Heritage Forum “Cultural Heritage for the Future” held 8-9 November 2021 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and attended by 150 participants and 27 exhibitors.

Helena Rydén managed an exhibition displaying information about the Chair and samples of its publications and other work. Cornelius Holtorf held a one-hour plenary session on “We need to work more with the future in the cultural heritage sector!”, featuring a short lecture, two films, much interaction with the public, and a panel debate with Tina Lindström (Kalmar County Museum) and Johan Swahn (The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG). Together, we presented and discussed how the cultural heritage sector can work with the future and why this is important, with special examples taken from cultural heritage pedagogy (timetravelling to the future at Kalmar County Museum) and concerning long-term memory of repositories of nuclear waste. After the session, several participants described the experience as “an eye-opener”.

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.

Culture and cultural heritage@COP26


Cornelius Holtorf attended parts or all of the following sessions organised during COP26 with relevance to culture and cultural heritage. His own agenda on these issues in relation to COP26 is available here.

1 Nov 2021

  • ARTS, HERITAGE, CULTURE: Reimagining our climate journey from knowledge to action (Opening of the Resilience Hub)

2 Nov 2021

  • A Culture of Resilience: Launch of the Climate Heritage Network Race to Resilience Campaign (part of the Resilience Hub). See here for a programmatic statement on this new campaign.
  • Climate Change Impacts on Cultural and Natural Heritage (part of the EU Pavilion events). This high-level meeting organised by the Government of Greece included, among others, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, Margaritas Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission, John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the U.S. Department of State, and government ministers of various states.
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
Margaritas Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission
John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the U.S. Department of State

4 Nov 2021

  • The [uncertain] Four Seasons, concert performed via film and accessible both virtually and at Glasgow Caledonian University

5 Nov 2021

9 Nov 2021

  • Cultural Heritage, Resilience & the Built Environment: an intergenerational dialogue (part of the Resilience Hub)

11 Nov 2021

On balance, questions about culture and cultural heritage were probably more visible than at any other COP before – the result of a dedicated effort by many people and initiatives. At the same time, the way cultural heritage is discussed in relation to climate change has become much more sophisticated and relevant too, no longer mainly about heritage ending up under rising water levels…