Chair on Heritage Futures

Dubai Future Forum


Cornelius Holtorf was invited to attend and speak at the Dubai Future Forum in Dubai, UAE. (27-28 November 2023). A total of 150 invited speakers presented in some 70 sessions, with ca 800 participants from close to 100 countries. The conference ended only two days before the start of COP28 and some participants stayed on.

As you can see on the image, I was wearing my UNESCO badge for global peace. Otherwise, various ongoing wars did not feature much during the entire event.

Close to 100 people attended our session, which was entitled Heritage Futures: How Does Culture Shape Tomorrow? In the session we wanted to introduce the concept of heritage futures to the global futurists:

This session is about ‘Heritage Futures’ which stands at the intersection of past legacies and tomorrow’s possibilities. We will discuss how culture shapes the world of tomorrow. Heritage is not just about conserving relics and memories of the past, but about making them resonate in an evolving world – and learning new ways to approach the future through care.

A recording of the session is now available on YouTube.

Other highlights of the conference included otherwise the experience of futures thinking in Dubai where the leadership has been developing ambitious futures programmes for many decades. This includes not only infrastructure and technology projects but also the Dubai Future Foundation and the Museum of the Future where the conference took place. Much of this rests on the income from oil which was discovered here as late as 1958 and enabled the country to have a stunning development. By 2071, the UAE aspires to be “the best country of the world,” as Ohood Al Roumi, the country’s Minister of the Future put it.

Although people were mentioned frequently, the themes of most of the keynotes and general panels revolved around technology (incl space and AI), energy (but not much on oil!), business, policy-making, health and food. There was very little about understanding people and appreciating various cultural ways of making sense of the world.

Some memorable quotes:

“We need to have the future at the table as well as on the menue,” Angela Wilkinson, World Energy Council

“Most countries don’t have long-term goals,” Sophie Howe, first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

“What matters is not the assets but their value,” Michael Clark, Mastercard

“Create the future, not just adapt!”, Adam Kahane, Reos Partners

“Our best futures need your magic as an alchemist,” Sarah de Vanzo, Pierre Fabre

“The future belongs to those who dare to imagine it,” David Alabo, digital artist

“If we are following trends, we are too late,” Benjamin Moncrieffe, Jaguar Land Rover

Perhaps most importantly, at least from my perspective, we were briefed in one session on the run-up to the UN Summit of the Future in September 2024. If anybody else is interested, click here for more information and the chance to sign up for continuous information provided by the School of International Futures and Foundations for Tomorrow.

Heritage Changes


Cornelius Holtorf has been organizing (since before the pandemic!) and chaired a Roundtable Dialogue at the ICOMOS Scientific Symposium “Heritage Changes” during the ICOMOS General Assembly 2023 held in Sydney, Australia addressing the question “What does it mean to manage heritage for the future? How will heritage (have to) change”?  (4-8 September 2023).

The organisers of the symposium had framed the theme HERITAGE CHANGES like this:

The GA2023 theme seeks to examine the tumultuous changes taking place in the first years of the 2020s. Climate emergencies, conflict, COVID-19, lockdowns, closed borders, virtual meetings, and the Black Lives Matter movement have profoundly altered the ways in which the world is experienced. What has been the role of heritage in these events? What is changing in the field of heritage and what needs to change? What does heritage change – for example, in civil society, the environment, the economy, and in politics? And, in what ways is heritage a force for change and integral to creating a sustainable future?

During the roundtable we discussed among the panel and with an audience of 150+ how heritage changes and how heritage needs to change, whether or not the future can be decolonised, what the possibility of societal discontinuities and extinction might mean for managing heritage, and whether heritage holds liabilities for achieving sustainable development.

The participants included

  • Cornelius Holtorf (Chair)   UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, Linnaeus University, Sweden
  • Vanicka Arora   University of Stirling, UK
  • Gabriel Caballero  Focal Point, ICOMOS SDG Working Group
  • Kate Clark   Public Value Consulting, Australia
  • Carolyn Hill  University of Waikato, Aotearoa New Zealand
  • William Megarry   Focal Point, ICOMOS Climate Change & Heritage Working Group



Increasing future awareness in the cultural heritage sector…


A new report on Increasing future awareness in the cultural heritage sector using the SoPHIA model just published!

The report presents results from a project that aimed at increasing future awareness in the cultural heritage sector, using the SoPHIA model. The project was run by the Centre for Applied Heritage at Linnaeus University, with funding from the university. Work on the report was carried out in 2021 and 2022 by NCK (The Nordic Centre of Heritage Learning and Creativity AB) under the direction of Gustav Wollentz, in co-operation with Kalmar County Museum, Jamtli Museum, and Daniel Laven from the Department of Economics, Geography, Law and Tourism at Mid Sweden University.

Results from the project show that the model succeeded in exploring possible future effects of a heritage intervention, defined as any action that results in a physical change to an element of a historic place, and related these effects to prioritized issues for societal development, such as participation, inclusion, and well-being. It managed to expand the range of potential action in the present. Furthermore, it also provided a useful tool for identifying significant areas where there is the potential to think more innovatively and creatively regarding future change and effects. The model helped in identifying the necessary steps and actions needed for realizing the interventionin accordance with a desirable scenario. The model failed in anticipating long-term futures or futures radically different from the present. It mostly provided insights into how the intervention could have an impact upon future change, but not on how future change would have an impact upon the intervention. Ways of adapting the model for increased future awareness are suggested. These include ways to make the model more suitable for anticipating long-term futures as well as futures of radical change. 

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.

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.


An Archaeology of Growth and Regeneration


What can it mean to excavate remains of the past when one is interested in the future?

One part of the excavation report for Gamla Skogsby 2021 describes the main outcomes of the intellectual and empirical work on growth and regeneration, led by Cornelius Holtorf and in collaboration with the other members of the excavation team.

The associated fieldwork was an attempt to find ways of creatively applying futures thinking to an archaeological field project. 

Read the report of this experimental excavation project here:

Holtorf, Cornelius (2022) An Archaeology of Growth and Regeneration. In: L. Papmehl-Dufay (ed.) Under storkökets golv. Arkeologisk undersökning i Gamla Skogsby september och oktober 2022, pp. 85-123 (Appendix 1). Kalmar Studies in Archaeology XIV. Kalmar/Växjö: Linnaeus University.

See also the full report here to which my text is an appendix.

Heritage Futures and Museums


Cornelius Holtorf was interviewed by Mario Giognorio, PhD student at the School of International Studies in Trento, Italy, on “Heritage Futures: Museums, communities, and the future that is already here.

He had been visiting Trento in November 2022 to give public lectures and seminars for the students participating in the Challenge Hitchhikers’ guides, virtual Charons, and the future of cultural objects, organized by Francesca Odella (Department of Sociology) and promoted by the University of Trento’s School of Innovation and the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU).

Future consciousness in museums


Nordisk Museologi published a paper by Anders Högberg, Gustav Wollentz, and Cornelius Holtorf on future consciousness in Swedish county museums.

This study investigates how managers and employees at County Museums in Sweden think about, work with, and relate to the future in their daily practice. We examined which tools and routines the museums employ to work concretely with different future perspectives. The study is thus about those forms of future consciousness that exist in the museums. The results show that the future is implicitly present but often remains unarticulated in the work of the museum. The museums work with short future perspectives which are often linked to concrete tasks or development work. The future perspectives at the museums are largely locked in the present or in a near future. Concrete tools, skills and routines to develop future consciousness are lacking. However, the results show that there is great interest and willingness among Swedish County Museums to implement tools, skills, and routines for a more developed engagement with futures.

Available in open access! (Full paper in Swedish only)

Högberg, Anders, Gustav Wollentz, and Cornelius Holtorf (2022) Framtidsmedvetande på museer. Några svenska länsmuseer i fokus. Nordisk Museologi 34 (2), 5–22.