Chair on Heritage Futures

Playful theorising


Cornelius Holtorf and Emily Hanscam attended the Nordic TAG conference in Oslo where they ran a practical workshop entitled “ARCHAEOLOGY TODAY (IN COLOUR)”. The abstract explained that…

Participants in the workshop will enjoy their coffee while busying themselves in small groups around several tables using crayons to draw in a colouring book (Archaeology Today, C. Holtorf and D. Lindskog 2021). The aim of the workshop is to inspire discussion on some archaeological key issues and on the forms in which such thinking may be expressed and practiced in various archaeological formats. We will find out what happens when adults adopt what is (supposedly) a children’s’ activity: will it bring out the child in each of us or will participants long for more adult genres? What does that entail in the context of academic discourse, fieldwork reports, and for the future of theoretical archaeology? We will ask us together what’s the use of theory when you can go and paint in a book (and vice versa). [shortened and slightly edited]

In the event, we found that the practice of colouring was a thinking device and conversation opener. All participants felt that archaeologists need to make archaeological theorising more playful and more commonly break rules and conventions in the name of creativity…

White Paper published


Collaboration between the two Joint Programming Initiatives “Cultural Heritage and Global Change” (JPI CH), and “Connecting Climate Knowledge for Europe” (JPI Climate) 2019-2022 has now led to a White Paper on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change: New Challenges and Perspectives for Research. Cornelius Holtorf was among the 26 authors.

The goal of the White Paper is to support the two JPIs to generate policy-relevant research outcomes. Thanks to our input, the 31 page-document emphasizes explicitly the significance of ‘heritage futures’ for informing future research agendas:

Among the White Paper’s recommendations for research are…

  • to generate more knowledge on how, in different contexts, cultural meanings and values can enhance climate adaptation and mitigation,
  • to understand better the future risks and opportunities of different perceptions and uses of cultural heritage, not the least for planning climate adaptation,
  • to make sure that more training is available for stakeholders and decision-makers regarding feasible solutions for climate adaptation, including effective methods to evaluate benefits and harm of conservation actions,
  • to investigate threats and opportunities of reducing, renewing, reconstructing, and regenerating cultural heritage for enhancing social cohesion.


Review by Kate Croll


Holtorf, C. and Högberg, A. (eds). 2021. Cultural Heritage and the Future. New York: Routledge. 279 pp. ISBN 978-1-138-82901-5 (paperback).

Reviewed by Kathryn D. Croll, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Email: crollkathryn@gmail.com .

As an archaeologist from a developing country with a background in heritage management, I was intrigued by this book for two reasons: how heritage practitioners elsewhere think of and conceptualize the future and, what this book could add to heritage management and preservation in Africa. The editors acknowledge a crucial flaw in the book in the introduction – that significant areas of the world are not represented in the book. Indeed, almost all of the case studies presented are from the developed world which is in a position to be future-facing and able to think of future heritages. However, the concepts and initiatives raised in this book can be applied to multiple contexts and multiple heritages.

The first section of the book is critical of treating heritage as a “gift” to the future because this treatment assumes that future generations will be “grateful” to us for preserving heritage. Rather, we cannot know what future generations would want from heritage, if anything at all. This book also raises important questions, such as why a specific piece of heritage should be preserved for future generations. In trying to answer these kinds of questions, it is stressed that there is no, and can be no, one-size-fits-all scenario. It is also emphasized that viewing heritage preservation as being on a continuum and developing conjunctive heritage preservation strategies are important for building a framework for “future heritage”.

The inclusion of intangible and living heritage in discussion of future heritage is essential as it is through these kinds of heritage that heritage is formed and continually produced and reproduced. The discussion around Chinese living heritage by Li (Chapter 4) provides a different (i.e. non-Western) perspective on heritage creation and production and shows that the different heritage sectors should learn from each other and use each other’s knowledge to aid with curating heritage for the future.

The criticism by Gonzalez-Ruibal (Chapter 5) that developed countries excessively curate, list and plan preservation and conservation of heritage sites is refreshing, as is the assertion that heritage (both tangible and intangible) is being rapidly destroyed in war-torn countries (which tend to be developing countries). The inundation of the UNESCO world heritage sites list with sites from developed countries reinforces the idea that the West is more developed and more capable of heritage protection. Gonzalez-Ruibal’s suggestion that we allow heritage sites to undergo change and renewal makes space for thinking of multiple futures and allows for more flexible management that is able to adapt to different futures and different future generations’ perspectives on heritage. This ties in with Dixon’s (Chapter 6) study on incomplete or unfinished buildings which at times can represent uncertainty in societies – these unfinished structures, modern or historical, can be used or reused today and in the future and need not be left unfinished or unused.

The third part of the book deals with ‘Armageddon heritage’ – heritage that has been created as a result of Cold War fears as well as heritage in the form of nuclear waste. The consideration of nuclear waste and its safe disposal ties in with concepts of treating heritage on a continuum and as renewable and that meanings and values ascribed to heritage (both tangible and intangible) shift and change over time. The suggestion by Joyce (Chapter 11) that we heritage professionals “operate with the assumption that people are universally concerned with their futures, including distant ones” is important because, as I have already stated, not everyone is in the position to consider the future, especially when the present is difficult enough. This assumption is also one that heritage practitioners operating in developing countries need to consider when developing heritage preservation and conservation plans because the needs of the present may outweigh the needs of the future.

This theme of the consideration of current and future needs runs through this book and is particularly apparent in the last part of the book. The final section deals with sustainability and the fluidity of the future and heritage. The idea that heritage should both serve the needs of people today and tomorrow is critical, and the final chapters emphasize that protecting heritage needs to be sustainable and cater to multiple possible needs of the future – if at all possible.

Ultimately, this book is a useful guide to all heritage practitioners from archaeologists to heritage site managers because it provides a guide for how to think about the future in a broad sense – that it is changeable and fluid and that the way we think about heritage today should be as well. Grounding heritage future thinking in studies from other fields which are already looking into how the future is formulated will allow for better articulation of future thinking. Lastly, more case studies from a broader range of countries and contexts would be a useful addition to heritage future thinking. As it stands, the book is lacking indigenous perspectives on heritage conservation and protection but the concepts and initiatives raised in this book regarding the future of heritage should lead to more studies and the inclusion of other perspectives. Importantly, thinking of heritage as fluid and changeable allows for the applicability of future-thinking in multiple heritage contexts.

Into Eternity


Cornelius Holtorf and Leila Papoli-Yazdi attended the Sixth International Conference on Geological Repositories (ICGR-6) in Helsinki, Finland (4-8 April 2022). The conference was held in the Paasitorni, a former Worker’s Assembly Hall now a transnational serial nomination for UNESCO World Heritage.

Among the topics discussed at the conference were questions about building trust in society and managing uncertainty. One irony is that ignorance and indifference may lead to trust whereas knowledge and engagement may result from (and support) distrust.

The conference included a site visit to the Finnish low- and intermediate-level waste repository and visitor centre (ONKALO) at Olkiluoto. The site became well known through the 2010 documentary Into Eternity.


Various activities January – March 2022


Cornelius Holtorf gave an invited keynote lecture on “Digitizing archives, urban heritage, and the needs of future generations” at the conference Digitizing Jerusalem Archives: Urban Heritage in the age of Digital Culture, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, Israel (3 January 2022)

Cornelius Holtorf taught 11 students at Linnaeus University, during two 2-hour sessions, about “Global Cultural Policy,” including the history of UNESCO World Heritage and the significance for cultural heritage of the Agenda 2030, incl. climate change, and of futures thinking. The students are reading our programme on Cultural Heritage in Present and Future Societies (10 Jan 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf taught 12 students at Linnaeus University, during two 2-hour sessions, about “UNESCO World heritage,” including a history of the World Heritage Convention and its achievements and challenges. The students are reading our programme on Cultural Heritage in Present and Future Societies (21 Jan 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg attended the digital Second Plenary of the Working Party on Information, Data and Knowledge Management of the Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Paris (1-3 Feb 2022).

Cornelius attended the Annual Policy Conversation “A Cultural Deal for Europe” arranged by Europa Nostra in collaboration with Culture Action Europe and the European Cultural Foundation (1 Feb 2022). It started with a video message by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

Cornelius Holtorf contributed with a cautionary note describing The Climate-Heritage Paradox to a call by the Climate Heritage Network to submit ideas in the context of a consultation of the UN climate change agency UNFCCC regarding the development of a new Global Goal on Adaptation, as discussed in this decision taken at COP26 (1 Feb 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf lectured on “Is the World Heritage Convention Out of Date?” for 20+ attendants at the Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, UK (9 February 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf opened a discussion on “Social relevance – threat or opportunity?” in the Salon FKH series, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Linnaeus University (15 February 2022)

Cornelius Holtorf attended Joanne Clarke’s Inaugural Lecture as Professor entitled “Archaeology, Heritage And Climate Change: How Recent Research Is Influencing International Policy Agendas” and held at the University of Est Anglia, UK (22 February 2022)

Cornelius Holtorf contributed with a presentation on “The War in Ukraine and Heritage Futures” to a panel debate, attended by almost 70 global participants, on Cultural Heritage in War: Making Ukraine’s Past and Future organised by the Cultural Heritage Studies Programme at Central European University (3 March 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf has been appointed to the Scientific Council of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum.
Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Archäologie (for the period 2022-2026). The RGZM was founded in 1852 and is an international research institute for Archaeology, based in Mainz, Germany.

Cornelius Holtorf presented a talk on “What is heritage futures and why does it matter?” at a research seminar on Critical Heritage and Place Consumption at the University of Lincoln, UK (9 March 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf lectured on Heritage Futures for 25 students in Design, reading a course on Design Processes and Methods focussing on Time at Linnaeus University (10 March 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf participated in the World Heritage Council meeting for the World Heritage site “Agricultural Landscape Southern Öland”, representing Linnaeus University (11 March 2022).

Emily Hanscam gave a talk on “Constrained by the Classics: Legacies of Rome in the United States” to researchers at the Department of Cultural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Kalmar (22 March 2022).

Cornelius Holtorf attended a seminar by Riina Alatalu, ICOMOS Vice-President for Europe, organised as part of the Annual Meeting of ICOMOS Sweden. Alatulu holds a new UNESCO Chair on Cultural Heritage at the Estonian Academic of Arts. She reported among others that ICOMOS Belarus has been dissolved by the government of Belarus and about the internal discussions within ICOMOS International on a statement concerning the war in Ukraine. I reminded the cirka 20 participants of the fact that The World Heritage Site “Struve Geodetic Arc” actually runs through Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia (and some other contries) and asked how this site, once the war has ceased, could contribute to peace through ICOMOS (28 March 2022).