Archive for January, 2022

University and Museum collaborating

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Ulrika Söderström wrote a report assessing the status quo and prospects of collaboration between Kalmar County Museum and Linnaeus University.

Both organisations have collaborated intensively for many years, encompassing teaching, research and research education. The Museum is the largest partner in the Industrial Research School GRASCA of which Söderström herself is a member and which is led by UNESCO Chairholder Cornelius Holtorf. Söderström investigates in her research how cultural heritage and archaeology can be applied in theory and practice to contribute to sustainable urban development. She is affiliated with the Chair too.

Written in Swedish, the report is now available here.

Heritage Futures: A Conversation

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

Prof. Cornelius Holtorf and Postdoctoral Fellow Annalisa Bolin have a new article out in Journal of Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development (open access), in which they discuss the topic of heritage futures and how to implement futures thinking in heritage studies and practice.

This article explores the concept of “heritage futures”, the role of heritage in managing relations between present and future societies. It assesses how thinking strategically about the future changes, complicates and contextualises practices of heritage. What might an attention to the future bring to work in heritage, and simultaneously, what challenges—both practical and ethical—arise?

This article takes the form of a conversation about the nature of heritage futures and how such a project may be implemented in both heritage practice and field research in heritage studies. The two authors are heritage scholars who integrate heritage futures questions into their research in different ways, and their conversation uncovers potentialities and difficulties in the heritage futures project.

The discussion covers the particular ethical issues that arise when the dimension of time is added to heritage research and practice, including questions of continuism, presentism and specificity. The conversation argues for the importance of considering the future in heritage studies and heritage practice and that this forms a key part of understanding how heritage may be part of building a sustainable present and future.

The future is an under-examined concept within heritage studies, even as heritage is often framed as something to be preserved “for future generations”. But what impact might it have on heritage practice to really consider what this means, beyond the platitude? This article suggests that heritage scholars and practitioners direct their attention to this often-neglected facet of heritage.

Forthcoming events

Monday, January 17th, 2022
Thursday, 24 March 2022, 16:00 CET

As part of the EUniWell Open Lecture Series, Prof. Cornelius Holtorf will be speaking on “Cultural Heritage, Well-being and the Future”

(Details to be announced via the link above.)


Action for World Heritage

Monday, January 17th, 2022

In 1 December 2020, Cornelius Holtorf commented on the draft Action Plan for implementing the National World Heritage Strategy of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

In early November, the revised final version of the Action Plan for implementing the National World Heritage Strategy in Sweden was published.

Thanks to our suggestion, the plan mentions a need for increased collaboration between Universities and domains of practice to contribute to knowledge development concerning world heritage work. The UNESCO Chair at Linnaeus University is specifically mentioned to be involved in a survey of expertise on world heritage work available at Swedish Universities, in order to strengthen collaboration between research, education and practice. 



Heritage Beyond Quarantine

Saturday, January 15th, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has to some extent been normalised by now. To a large extent, we have gotten used to it all. Now the time for thorough reflection starts, trying to figure out what actually happened.

Here are my thoughts on “Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Beyond Quarantine: Reflections from Sweden on Covid-19 and Its Consequences,” published by my colleagues in Brazil:

During the years of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021 thus far), nobody could remain in any real quarantine. The humans of the world were reminded daily of the global progress (or otherwise) of one virus, several vaccines, and numerous health systems. As always, archaeology could not escape its present. The following are my reflections on some issues I had on my mind during the time of the ‘corona crisis’. They reflect my perspective as an archaeologist working on heritage futures who normally travels a lot throughout Europe and beyond, but now remained put in Sweden, working a lot from home and, curiously, attending even more international meetings than before, albeit virtual ones.

Holtorf, Cornelius (2022) Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Beyond Quarantine: Reflections from Sweden on Covid-19 and Its Consequences. Revista de Arqueologia 35(1), 53-68.


Rwandan Solutions to Rwandan Problems: Heritage Decolonization and Community Engagement in Nyanza District, Rwanda

Monday, January 10th, 2022

UNESCO Chair postdoctoral fellow Annalisa Bolin, along with David Nkusi of Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy, has published a new article in Journal of Social Archaeology. “Rwandan Solutions to Rwandan Problems: Heritage Decolonization and Community Engagement in Nyanza District, Rwanda” is available in open access. The article investigates how rural communities in Nyanza engage with or are alienated from heritage resources, and explores possibilities for decolonizing heritage management in order to produce more effective and responsive models of management. This is part of building a decolonized future for Rwanda, the article argues, while paying attention to the ethical obligations of heritage-making.

Highlighting the rural district of Nyanza in Rwanda, this article examines community relations to heritage resources. It investigates the possibilities for more ethical, engaged models of heritage management which can better deliver on agendas of decolonization and development. The research finds that Nyanza’s heritage stakeholders highly value heritage’s social and economic roles, but communities are also significantly alienated from heritage resources. In seeking to bridge this gap, heritage professionals utilize a discourse of technocratic improvement, but community leaders emphasize ideas of ownership, drawing on higher state-level discourses of self-reliance and “homegrown solutions.” They mobilize the state’s own attempts to filter developing, decolonizing initiatives through Rwandan frameworks to advocate for communities’ right to participate in heritage. This local agency offers a roadmap for utilizing favorable aspects of existing governance to push heritage management toward community engagement and decolonization.

An abridged and adapted version of this article, focusing especially on decolonization, has also appeared in SAPIENS magazine

Culture, Heritage, and Climate Change

Saturday, January 1st, 2022

During the week 6-10 December 2021, about 100 researchers and practitioners from around the world were given the opportunity to attend an international meeting on culture, heritage, and climate change. I was among them (as the only one from Sweden). Here is a short report.

The meeting was the first of its kind and co-sponsored by UNESCO, ICOMOS and the IPCC, with senior leaders of these organizations giving weight to the gathering, from Hoseung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Assistant Director-General for Culture of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Teresa Patricio, President of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The organization team of the meeting had included Will Megarry (ICOMOS Focal Point for Climate Change and Heritage), Jyoti Hosagrahar (Deputy Director, UNESCO World Heritage Centre) and Debra Roberts (Co-Chair, Working Group II, IPCC) as Meeting Co-Chairs, and Hana Morel as the Scientific Co-ordinator.

The main aims of the meeting were on the one hand to advance mutual discussions on culture, heritage, and climate change between global representatives of these three organizations and on the other hand to compile a report to the IPCC, in the run-up to its seventh assessment cycle in 2022, advocating for a stronger consideration of culture and heritage in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The previously unfulfilled potential for the future of culture and heritage in relation to climate change was seen to lie in two areas in particular: cultural governance in the present and the opportunity for humanity to learn from the past.

From the perspective of the IPPC, studying the causes, impacts and responses to climate change, the realms of culture and heritage were considered to have much untapped potential. Climate change is so comprehensive a challenge that all of society must respond and all parts of human lives must be considered.

The meeting consisted of a public introductory session and several public plenary discussions on the three main themes previously selected: Knowledge Systems, Impacts, and Solutions (recordings accessible here). Each theme was also the topic of an extensive precirculated White Paper. In addition, there were many small group discussions of ca 6-10 participants (plus rapporteurs) among the invited experts, dedicated to specific questions related to the three themes but also open for more general exchanges. I participated in seven of these closed sessions.

The following is a spontaneous discussion of some of the main issues that caught my attention and sparked my interest during any of the public or closed sessions, arranged by theme.  

Knowledge Systems

The first theme was all about recognizing and respecting diverse global knowledge systems and the need to co-produce relevant knowledge, combining different epistemologies, to inform global decision-making on climate issues.

Shadreck Chirikure (University of Cape Town, South Africa) spoke of “a parliament of knowledge without any hierarchy” and that meant without Western scientific knowledge at the top. Instead, he advocated for local communities to be given a voice to speak for themselves, establishing a “democracy of knowledge”, as he put it. The plea against modern education to create a more balanced way of life without assumed supremacy of the scientific knowledge system was echoed by indigenous representative Pasang Sherpa (Nepal). Indeed, all on the panel seemed to be agreeing on that point.

The problem with this, as I see it, is that climate change is a global problem which to understand and address requires science. That does not mean that science is the only way to understand and address climate change, but certainly it is of particular significance, given the entire intellectual tradition linked to the idea of enlightenment that led to much progress of understanding the world and creating technology that works in it. To insist on the significance of scientific knowledge does not mean to defend the ills of colonialism and inequality but rather can help in finding viable alternatives to practices causing harm. It surprised (and frightened) me that there seemed to be considerable anti-science sentiments underlying the discussions associated with this theme.

If all knowledge systems really were of equal validity to understand and address climate change, on what grounds could we dismiss the knowledge of climate change deniers, various conspiracy theories, or indeed of all sorts of other extraordinary beliefs about the world that some people hold? What is it that makes some indigenous and local knowledge more worth defending and being respected than others?

In one small group discussion, we discussed whether the IPCC should draw on evidence that wasn’t either peer-reviewed or scientific grey literature (which is required now). The question was effectively on what grounds the IPCC could trust other sources it may want to use.

To draw fully on local and indigenous knowledge, a wider range of evidence needs to be permissible. Communities should be involved in participatory processes and given the opportunity to express themselves in whatever form they prefer (as Chirikure had emphasised earlier). There is thus a need to consider a variety of new qualitative criteria for relevant cultural knowledge, but they can be hard to assess and measure which also may make results from different contexts difficult to compare with each other. Innovative approaches for solving this problem still need to be identified and agreed on.

In another discussion, we deliberated whether the climate crisis requires humanity to develop a new integrated knowledge system that all humans could share jointly. Maybe a unified body of knowledge could be manifested in an alternative kind of world heritage, too.


The second theme focussed on risks, losses and damage associated with climate change and its impact. (Unfortunately, due to timetable clashes I missed most of the discussions associated with this theme.)

Although the IPCC and many politicians and activists put much emphasis on ‘risks’ and ‘threats’, in one small group discussion we agreed that such terms are not always empowering people and, therefore, problematic. Talking about risks and threats emphasises what people may be losing according to contemporary value systems rather than what we wish to guarantee for people according to whatever value system, even in the future, for example wellbeing, safety, thriving.

This discussion brought home to us how important language is in identifying shared strategies and communicating with different audiences. The three co-organizing bodies of the meeting all spoke different languages and addressed in parts different people. Finding a common agenda will require reconsidering the language being used.


The final theme addressed solutions to climate change—how to facilitate transformative change and create alternative futures. The underlying concrete question was how cultural heritage could contribute to responses and solutions of climate change.

The initial panel recalled the comprehensive 2019 ICOMOS report “Futures of our Past” and the 2021 updated UNESCO Policy on World Heritage and Climate Change. These documents draw attention not only to the fact that culture and heritage are always at the heart of climate change and thus also need to be part of any solutions but also to cultural heritage as a valuable resource for adaptation strategies and increased resilience.

In his statement, Robin Coningham (UNESCO Chair on Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage at Durham, UK) emphasised that heritage provides a record of successful and unsuccessful past adaptations. In that sense, he suggested that ancient technology may unlock the resilience of communities by revealing unique cultural adaptations containing important lessons for the future.

Rohit Jigyasu (ICCROM) added that adaptation does not only refer to ancient building techniques and other practical solutions but also comes in the form of holistic knowledge embedded in all aspects of people’s lives. He also made clear that any knowledge has always evolved, and that knowledge of the past should not be romanticized but must be combined with possibilities offered by modern technology to be taken into the future. Indeed, the White Paper on Solutions, too, acknowledges the risk of culturalism (p. 56) and a need to challenge essentialist notions of cultural stability (p. 21).

In one of the small group discussions associated with this theme, we problematized the colonial and modernist idea of salvaging cultures in past and present, which lies at the origin of both anthropology and archaeology. In fact, culture and heritage are constantly renewing themselves and should not be seen exclusively in terms of threats, loss, and damage. Indeed, climate change and culture change are not the enemies of heritage, but they also create new heritage, compensating for some that may have been lost. After all, as archaeologists including the rescuers of Abu Simbel know, destructive events can have positive outcomes for heritage and culture too. (All this brought us back to the point made earlier about the significance of language and issues with terminology such as the IPCC’s references of ‘loss’ and ‘damage’.)

I also took away from all the presentations and discussions on culture- and heritage-based solutions to the challenges provided by climate change that

  • all science-based solutions are socially, politically, and culturally entangled
  • the affective power of cultural heritage and cultural creativity is a powerful tool to be harnessed for climate action and adaptation (but at the same time there is a risk that climate action turns into an uncritical climate religion offering higher meaning to life and promising a path to salvation…)
  • there is a risk that climate action deprives many people outside the Global North of cultural aspirations for the future which are legitimate and ought to be respected
  • a focus on the collective human endeavour, dialogue and cooperation is more significant than the emphasis on conserving national and other forms of potentially divisive heritage.


What struck me a lot is that the contributors to the open panels and even many participants in the closed session often agreed with each other on the main positions and points being made, just adding different examples and perspectives. Whereas this was intellectually disappointing, it demonstrated shared concerns and a common agenda.

The main goal of the meeting to give culture and heritage a place at the table where climate change is being discussed was perhaps achieved, and future collaborations between IPCC, UNESCO and ICOMOS have become much more likely. But the reason for this may have been different than intended. The White Papers were too extensive and launched only a few days before the event so that detailed readings and discussions during the meeting were impossible. Moreover, many of the questions set for detailed discussion in the small group discussions were too specific and impossible to address without any prior preparations.

The main benefit were the discussions themselves, creating improved understanding of many important issues for all the global participants working with climate change in various contexts. These joint discussions created social capital between the participants which hopefully can be put to good use in future work on this im­portant topic.