Chair on Heritage Futures

PhD on heritage in urban planning


Ulrika Söderström, PhD student in Archaeology at Linnaeus University and associated researcher at the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, held on 21 April 2023 the final seminar (slutseminarium) ahead of her disputation expected to be held in the autumn. The seminar opponent was Björn Nilsson, Head of the Department of Cultural History at the University Museum of Bergen, Norway. 

Ulrika’s research is about archaeological heritage as a resource in socially sustainable urban development for the future. Her Doctoral research is supervised by Anders Högberg, with Cornelius Holtorf having responsibility as the internal examiner. Even Gustav Wollentz, another affiliated researcher of the UNESCO Chair, participated in the seminar.

Seminar opponent Björn Nilsson pointed among others to the relevance to Ulrika’s research of Johan Asplund’s work Theories about futures (Teorier om framtider, 1979), which was published in collaboration with the Swedish Committee for Future-Oriented Research.

Fieldwork in Fukushima


Cornelius Holtorf undertook with his colleague Tomas Nilsson of the Faculty of Economics a week-long field visit to Tokyo and various places in the Prefecture of Fukushima investigating strategies of storytelling and remembering in relation to the threefold 2011 Eastern Japan-disaster, consisting of a major earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami and a large-scale evacuation in response to a nuclear meltdown of several reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi powerplant.

The tsunami reached up to second floor of this school (where all pupils and teachers survived)

Twelve years after the disaster, today the region of Fukushima is occupied with a comprehensive strategy of revitalization and remembering. We visited the main exhibitions and met representatives of Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), the Fukushima Innovation Coast Promotion Organization (FIPO), the University of Fukushima, and the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association, among others.

Meeting with the Director of Tourism and some of his staff, Fukushima Prefecture

What struck me most was the general ambition to recover and revitalize what (even who!) was there before the disaster rather than embracing the transformations caused by it, while looking for new strategies of living and flourishing. Remembering the hardship of the community since 2011 but otherwise continuing to believe in modern progress based on technology and innovation seems to be the general idea here at the moment.

An extensive memorial park is currently being built in Futaba, including a huge mound with a chamber to commemorate the ca 4,000 who lost their lives here

The new protective measures built along the entire coastline provide safety for the new beginnings and are said to be able to withstand the height of tsunamis occurring once every 1000 years. Those structures are doubtless the most enduring legacy of the disaster.

The new coastal sea defenses. In the background the nuclear power station Fujushima Daini which could be prevented from meltdown.

Listening – important skill for the future


Listening as an essential skill for future heritage practices

Diana Policarpo, Ciguatera [Installation], The Soul Expanding Ocean #4 [Exhibition]. Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Ocean Space, Venice. Seen on 30.04.2022.

Diana Policarpo, Ciguatera [Installation], The Soul Expanding Ocean #4 [Exhibition]. Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Ocean Space, Venice. Seen on 30.04.2022.

Ever since the elaboration of the UN Agenda for 2030 and its SDgs, and even more so since the elaboration of ICOMOS’ International Policy Guidance, cultural heritage has been advocated as an essential asset for tackling issues related to the climate crisis, with social challenges identified as part of this process. The International Day for Monuments and Sites (IDMS) offers the ideal setting for reflecting on which types of values attached to official heritage are suitable for designing the futures envisioned within these strategies. Or else, which hidden values might offer equal if not better support in designing these futures.

This year’s theme of the IDMS reflects on Heritage Changes and alternative sources of knowledge for welcoming our uncertain futures. It emphasizes Indigenous and traditional knowledge systems as valuable sources for finding solutions for meeting the SDGs and encourages heritage experts and institutions to open up dialogues at all levels of society and with other sectors in order to ensure representation in decision making processes with regards to the environment. 

This is a theme widely explored through the Panorama Platform within its Panorama Nature-Culture Community, which shares examples of good practices which seek to enhance the linkages between human communities and other-than-human communities and find solutions of co-existence and possibly flourishing together. Most of the explorations into these solutions are based on collaborations with Indigenous, traditional and local communities and the co-production of ecosystem management strategies, for ensuring the wellbeing of all types of communities and the conservation of heritage. When scrolling through the diverse case studies on the platform, one can come across approaches which touch upon diverse narratives which are usually woven into the “heritage for climate action” discourse: from indigenous healers engaged into actions aimed at saving tree species, to greening itineraries which lead to world heritage sites, to convincing people of the values of the conservation of their homes as an act of sustainability (just to name a few). Although all of these offer examples of action and therefore they create a sense of hopefulness, the common assumptions that seems to surface from these approaches, as well as those employed in similar actions in general,  are that:

  • Nature is an isolated object from ourselves, a realm to which we do not belong, and in need of our intervention in order to save it.
  • Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities are inherently willing to remain as they are (or as they are imagined) and offer solutions for environmental damages produced so far.
  • Cultural and Natural Heritage are static objects, which at best could be changed by bringing them into a state in which they were before (a “before” which is difficult to locate in time, although some might say “before the industrial revolution”).

This is not to say that such approaches are not useful in defining new models of interacting with our environments. Rather, these approaches touch upon the surface of the problem which lays at the heart of the current multiple crises we are experiencing. For tackling these, more powerful tools are needed which are able to decisively influence our very ways of envisioning ourselves as species within a broader context of an array of environments. Multispecies studies for example look at the multiple entanglements of livelihoods and of diverse communities of species and how these interact and influence each other, drawing also from Indigenous philosophies in this way. This might be an appropriate starting point for envisioning heritage practices as part of a management process of ecosystems and therefore bear in mind the impacts that our decisions related to heritage management have not just on humans but on other-than-humans as well. 

This becomes all the more important if we are to consider the power of heritage in shaping human values and behaviors and in defining our place in the world. In this case the following question arises: what is it that we bring with ourselves from our pasts that we would like to carry with us in the future? Reflecting upon the past in this case becomes not a nostalgic reflex, but rather identifying what it is that we’ve been carrying with us as societies. And in this sense, and keeping in mind the futures we envision for ourselves and for future generations, what is it that we might perhaps shed off as it will not be useful in these envisioned futures any longer? These are relevant reflections as we must acknowledge that, despite admirable efforts to slow down the rapid changes our worlds are undergoing, these changes in one form or another will happen and therefore the best we can do is to actually prepare. This means taking precautions, of course, but it also means that our very ways of relating to change, to uncertainty, to  our environments, must be steered towards acceptance and foresight equally. 

As much as we like to believe it, traditional knowledge is not static either. Surely if one were to document a traditional community across decades, they will notice changes in ways of perceiving and relating to the world, unless these lived completely isolated from other human communities (but even so might be influenced by changes in the rest of the environment). Too much tokenism has been expressed by outsiders in relation to Indigenous, traditional or local communities, and therefore when entering such a domain there is a need to proceed not just ethically, but also in attempts to establish genuine relationships in order to understand the other intimately. Too often, the sounding of these communities as sources of valuable knowledge for tackling the challenges we encounter is similar to that of careless extraction of resources from the rest of the environment. The first thing to keep in mind when seeking advice in such a context could be as simple as asking ourselves if these communities want to have anything to do with our actions. For this, heritage experts need to leave behind their desire to persuade people into values and actions and rather just listen.

Perhaps it all comes down to the simple act of listening carefully, to human worlds and other-than-human worlds as well. Not for replying, not for finding solutions, but just for the sake of listening. This is an act which heritage experts will need to acquire if they want to be prepared both for the changes within our worlds, and for the changing of the heritage sector as well. After all, when imagining diverse futures, we are in a position of envisioning different ways of relating to the past as well. 

Elena Maria Cautis

Elena Maria Cautis, PhD student

Elena Maria Cautis, PhD student with the Centre for Applied Heritage and the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University.

International Day for Monuments and Sites, ICOMOS

18 April is the International Day for Monuments and Sites, coordinated by ICOMOS. This year the theme is “Heritage Changes”.

WOW! The Future is Calling! 

Artist, teacher and curator Pernilla Frid guided a group of university administrators in Kalmar on the 30 March 2023, to talk about the art at Linnaeus University. The guided tour ended at the exhibition Back to the Future in the Knowledge Cube in Kalmar. The basis of the exhibition is the research conducted within the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, and one part of the exhibition is devoted to the picture book WOW! The Future is Calling!

Pernilla showed us her contribution to the exhibition and talked enthusiastically about the characters, If, Wow and Try. She wanted us to understand that parts of these character traits can be found in all of us.

She explained to us that she when she was invited to apply her skills, she was immediately attracted to work in this context and with innovative concepts. The point is to convey the variety and richness in which we can engage with the future. The book behind gives many examples, both in the way the main characters act, representing three different ways of relating to the future, and in the many details, which surround them.

Thank you Pernilla for a lovely afternoon!

The book is available here https://issuu.com/lnu12/docs/wow 

Copyright © 2021. Text & illustrations: Pernilla Frid & Cornelius Holtorf. All rights reserved.

Pernilla Frid

Artist Pernilla Frid at the exhibition Back to the Future in the Knowledge Cube, Kalmar, Sweden.


Climate Change and Coastal Erosion


Cornelius Holtorf was invited to Norwich in the UK to attend a British Academy-funded conference and expert workshop on Measuring Loss and Damage to Heritage from Climate Change for Effective Policy Reporting at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Holtorf argued in favour of replacing the emphasis on ‘loss and damage’ with a stronger appreciation of the potential use of heritage for enhancing people’s well-being in the face of climate change and its implications. But another focus of the 2-day discussions was how to measure the loss of culture and heritage so that it can be included in high-level climate discussions.

Food heritage is partly intangible and selling points are mobile – a good thing when the coast is eroding rapidly.

The days of discussion were followed by an excursion to the coast of Norfolk to witness coastal erosion and get engaged in informal discussions on the mobility of cultural heritage and peoples’ lives under changing conditions.