Echoes of Eternity: Cultural heritage and the future (co-edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg, Routledge 2021)
Reviewed by Patricia Brum, researcher at História, Territórios e Comunidades – CFE NOVA FCSH, Portugal. Email: email@example.com
The book Cultural heritage and the future, published during the pandemic in 2021, is a first contribution for this 21st century research topic, which has already led to the establishment of the Unesco Chair on Heritage Futures in 2017.
Although not concerned with the future of cultural heritage per se, several authors stress the importance of including the future in heritage studies. Cultural heritage studies have not been entirely unaware of what is to come. Sustainability, heritage risk assessment, the effects of climate change on cultural heritage, and the disposal of archaeological finds due to lack of space are some of the future-related topics being discussed in heritage.
As defined by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Hogberg, the co-editors of this volume, “Heritage Futures are concerned with the roles of heritage in managing the relations between the present and future societies” (p.144). After all, if heritage practitioners tend to justify their work as important for future generations, one may ask how much they are really incorporated in their work. Most authors’ background is in archaeology, as dealing directly with tangible heritage is very much part of this subject. Yet this book does not focus on tangible heritage alone. Several articles are dedicated to intangible cultural heritage, such as that from Luo Li, one of the non-archaeologists among the authors. In the future, the perspective of experts with additional specialisms of heritage theorization should be invited to further the debate. After all, historians, art historians and architects also deal with built heritage and the latter already tend to have less traditional/conservative views, integrating many times the past in new constructions and dealing more with the reflexion of what from the past can be kept or is useful for the future, although sometimes disregarding completely what the past has to offer for the future.
One can argue that the already wide diversity of what is considered heritage in this book, defined right in the beginning as “what reminds people of the past, tangible or intangible, predominantly cultural but also natural” (p. 2), has different layers of integrating “future thinking”. It is noteworthy that it is not the same dealing with the future in the case of the Acropolis (p. 168), a UNESCO World Heritage site, as in the case of Salvation Mountain (p. 96). Searching through the examples given in this book, it seems sensible to use those from World Heritage Sites. As such, the article by Rosemary Joyce is paramount, proving that it is possible to discuss heritage futures in the context of the most highly regarded heritage. The detailed example of the Orfordness Lighthouse by Caitlin DeSilvey explains very clearly the processes of heritage: how worries of the future are present in heritage and a concern for communities. The editors’ effort to ensure global geographical distribution of contributors and examples is noteworthy, although they themselves recognize this attempt as incomplete.
A specific section within the larger theme being presented is about existing projects dealing with space and nuclear heritage. Radioactive waste is often presented as cultural heritage in this book, even though no archaeologist opposes to such a classification for a Roman garbage dump or an islamic pit. One could argue that the real debate is whether garbage of our present or recent past will be treated as we treat heritage today.
It is hard to predict how heritage will evolve and even if this is not the goal of this collection of articles, this book is a contribution to incorporating thinking the future in a field which is traditionally associated only with the past. How do heritage practitioners include the future in their work? Does heritage legislation allow change? “Could the heritage sector improve its capacity to think the future?” (p. 2); “how can heritage conservation empower future generations to be agents of change rather the stewards of the past?” (p. 198); “how might heritage provide the continuity necessary for the formation of stable identities?” (p. 254). This book opens the way for many more questions to come and as such is a hopeful and much needed volume.
(A Portuguese version of this review was published in Almadan online, July 2022.)