Chair on Heritage Futures

Intangible Cultural Heritage and Climate Change


I have been invited by UNESCO to contribute to a meeting of nearly 40 international experts and UNESCO staff on Safeguarding intangible cultural and climate change, held on 19-20 June 2024 at UNESCO in Paris.

Among the attendents I was presenting for were Fumiko Ohinata, Secretary of the UNESCO 2003 Convention, Susanne Schnüttgen, Chief of Unit for Capacity Building and Heritage Policy, Culture Sector, UNESCO, and two more UNESCO Chairs: Heba Aziz, UNESCO Chairholder for World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Management in the Arab region at the German University of Technology in Oman—GUtech, and Susan Keitumetse, UNESCO Chairholder for African Heritage Studies and Sustainable Development, University of Botswana.

Venice Charter Reframed


Cornelius Holtorf presented a talk entitled “The Climate Heritage Paradox — considering regeneration” for ca. 30 international heritage experts at the conference Venice Charter [Re-] framed 1964-2024: New Heritage Challenges held at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, in co-operation with ICOMOS Portugal, in Lisbon, Portugal (28 May 2024).

In my paper I argued for a shift in the approach to cultural heritage management. Moving beyond the Venice Charter’s focus on conservation as preservation of historical evidence, I advocate for a perspective of regeneration. This involves viewing cultural heritage not as static artifacts but as dynamic, ever-changing entities akin to ecosystems. By embracing change and transformation, cultural heritage can contribute to human and non-human well-being, resilience, and sustainability in the face of contemporary challenges like the climate crisis. (summary provided by Chat GPT)

In relation to the main theme of the conference addressing 60 years since the Venice Charter, it seems to me that what has changed since 1964 may be summarised like that:

The Venice Charter focuses a great deal on establishing fairly restrictive policy in the name of preserving ancient fabric as a living and authentic witness of the past. But today many experts are more interested in what cultural heritage does (or can do) for people and society, not the least in the light of challenges like those caused by climate change.

Do we need a revised policy maximizing the benefits of heritage for people?



Today and tomorrow, The UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures has been co-hosting Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay of the Co-Futures project at the University of Oslo. They are the hub of a number of interrelated and well-funded projects.

CoFUTURES is an international group working on Global Futures with its sphere of activities scattered across various communities, research groups and networks around the world. Among others, they work on speculative fiction, co-futures literacy, and contemporary futurism. An insipiring alternative to established approaches in foresight and Futures Studies that predominate in the corporate and policy world.

Embracing Change


I presented a keynote lecture entitled “Embracing Change: Cultural Heritage and Regeneration” for the 2024 International Forum on Cultural Heritage: Sustainability and Resilience hosted by the Asian Network of Industrial Heritage in Taiwan.

The event was part of the 2024 International Day of Monuments and Sites on 18 April, this year dedicated to the theme “Disasters and Conflicts through the Lens of the Venice Charter”. The forum aimed to explore sustainable practices and the resilience and adaptability of cultural heritage in the face of contemporary challenges.

The audience comprised 55 participants on site and additional 70 participating online via Facebook on Youtube.

My talk in the session on Sustainability and Futures focused on the following issues:

“Disasters and conflicts are the outcome of societal failures to take sufficient precautions, respond adequately to emerging events, or behave appropriately peacefully towards each other. Their impact is perceived as worse if acceptance of change is low. I argue that all this can be improved by an updated perception of (world) cultural heritage that is based on concepts of renewal and regeneration rather than conservation and restoration, as it is, for example, still advocated in the 1964 Venice Charter. Narratives of change over time, exemplified by ever-changing cultural heritage, are likely able to improve resilience and preparedness for transformations in future societies. They can also facilitate a new more pan-human or indeed post-human understanding of our shared world. As Tim Ingold (2024) wrote recently, cultural heritage should not be seen as an inheritance to be transmitted from one generation to the next but as a living and perduring process of continuous renewal generating social life under varying circumstances over time.“

Ever-living trees


Coastal sequoias represent a particular variety of long-term thinking. These redwood trees are not only very tall (100+ m) but also very long-living (up to 2,000+ years). 

The Humboldt Redwoods California State Park is the largest expanse of ancient redwoods left on Earth. They inspire throughout the park to a variety of references to the distant past and future: 

  • “Time immemorial”
  • “Ambassadors from another time”, (…) “can you imagine dinosaurs rubbing elbows against the ancient redwoods’ ancestors?”
  • “Relics of the Past”, “In a sense, this redwood forest is a window to the past—a place to glimpse a distant world that existed long ago.”
  • “These towering survivors will grace this land for centuries to come”
  • The Park “protects a story that will continue unfolding far into the future!”
  • “The enduring splendor of these magnificent trees”
  • “When you walk among the redwoods, time seems to stand still. Like our own lives, though, this forest is constant changing.”
  • “Redwoods,  now and forever”; “in memory of Travis Brian Percival. My forever love”
  • “The redwoods, once seen, create a vision that stays with you always…”
  • “Immortal tree”
  • “Eternal”, “ever-living” [the trees’ botanical name is Sequoia sempervirens]

Having said all that, it is intriguing that each redwood’s enormous weight rests on the external layers of the trunk. Their inner core decays first, and they have rather shallow and thin roots. — Is this nature’s inspiration for sustainability and long-term futures??

Long Now at Long Last


Last night, I finally visited The Interval – home of The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. A wonderful location and initiative, promoting long-term thinking since 01996:

The Interval is a bar, café, museum, and the home of The Long Now Foundation. Featuring a floor-to-ceiling library of the books you might need to rebuild civilization, mechanical prototypes for a clock meant to last for 10,000 years, art that continually evolves in real time, and a time-inspired menu of artisan drinks.

The ‘long now’ and futures-thinking are as worth promoting today as they were back in 2006, when Michael Chabon wrote for Details:

I don’t know what happened to the Future. It’s as if we lost our ability, or our will, to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too-distant date. Or maybe we stopped talking about the Future around the time that, with its microchips and its twenty-four-hour news cycles, it arrived. […] The Future was represented so often and for so long, in the terms and characteristic styles of so many historical periods from, say, Jules Verne forward, that at some point the idea of the Future—along with the cultural appetite for it—came itself to feel like something historical, outmoded, no longer viable or attainable.

On my visit to The Interval, I also noted two things that I had not previously thought about regarding the work of The Long Now Foundation.

  • Firstly, its thinking is most prominently focussed on technology rather than, say, social or cultural issues. But is the long-term future really a question that is best advanced by technological innovations like the Foundations famous “Clock of the Long Now”?
  • Secondly, while they certainly champion long-term thinking in terms of millennia rather than decades, they developed this thinking before the emergence of the concept of “futures literacy” at UNESCO. The latter emphasizes the skills of becoming aware of your assumptions of the future and of imagining multiple alternative futures.

I can’t help wondering about the future of the Long Now Foundation. In other words, how LONG is it until its focus is going to be adapted to one or more new futures?

Various activities January – March 2024


Cornelius Holtorf

Cornelius Holtorf held a meeting with Matthias Ripp and Monika Göttler representing the Organisation of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) in order to prepare a Futures Literacy Workshop during the OWHC’s Global Conference later this year in Cordoba, Spain (17 January 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf held meetings with Sanna Sjöo (Culture and Leisure Dept., Kalmar municipality) and the artists Ruben Wätte and Robin Tidblom about an initiative entitled Expedition Future with several events scheduled during 2024 in Kalmar County, inspired by our work on Heritage Futures (29 January and 7 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf discussed in conversation with Karin Stenson, Deputy Secretary-General for the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO at the Ministry of Education and Research, some concrete suggestions for the Zero Draft for the Declaration on Future Generations to be passed by the UN Summit of the Future in September 2024 (21 February 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf was invited to give a Cotsen Public Lecture and presented for an audience of more than 30 a lecture on “Excavating the Future: From Recovery to Regeneration” at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA (29 February 2024). He presented the lecture again for the Archaeological Research Center, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA (15 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf held a mini future workshop for the staff of the Dept. of Collections at the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, USA (1 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf held a meeting with representatives of Alcove Advisors and NEOM, a large-scale urban area planned by Saudi Arabia, regarding heritage futures and the preparation of guidelines for documenting future legacies of NEOM (4 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf was among the 300+ participants in the first UNESCO Chair Seminar on the planned UN Pact for the Future (5 March 2024). With about 150 participants representing UNESCO Chairs around the world, speakers from the Bureau of Strategic Planning at UNESCO and several UNESCO Chairs emphasized the need to give more weight to education (including higher education) and culture in the Pact of the Future currently drafted for the UN Summit of the Future to be held in September 2024 and by implication for the post-2030 agenda.

Cornelius Holtorf took part in the Global Stakeholder Consultation on Strategic Planning 2026-2031 for The international Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, ICCROM (17 March 2024).

Anders Högberg presented a talk at a seminar in public humanities at Malmö University, invited by the Department of Society, Culture and Identity at Malmö University (26 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf had meetings discussing areas of mutual interest and future initiatives with Tim Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Joan Weinstein, Director of the Getty Foundation, and (repeatedly) Camille Kirk, Director of Sustainability at Getty (8, 20, 22, and 27 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf co-introduced with Giorgio Buccellati, UCLA and fellow Getty Scholar, a discussion seminar for Getty interns and Getty Guest Scholars on “Urkesh and The Book of Change” (27 March 2024).

Cornelius Holtorf presented a talk entitled “Outlook: Heritage Futures” for 60 senior Getty staff participating in the first Getty Sustainability Convening dedicated specifically to collection environments research and practice (28 March 2024).

On the same occasion, Cornelius Holtorf also ran a 20 minute exercise during lunchtime facilitating discussion among participants about assumptions about the future (28 March 2024).

The Book of Change


Cornelius Holtorf presented for ca 60 physical and digital participants at the Getty Centre, Los Angeles, USA, an invited Conservation Scholar Lecture entitled “The Book of Change” (19 March 2024).


The question has been posed: “How do we make sense of the past in a world where the future is not what it used to be?” This presentation gives some tentative answers by discussing (not so) weak signals of future ways of making sense of the past and of cultural heritage. What they share is a change of values and perspectives through which analysis, conservation, interpretation, and uses of cultural heritage contribute to present and future societies. The Book of Change I will present contains a number of specific examples, but its main aim is to build courage, creativity, and competence for embracing in practice the insight that cultural heritage is not going to be what it used to be.

The Getty Lecture entitled “The Book of Change” is now available at https://vimeo.com/928192942/5c4ce2bc49?share=copy

The Climate Heritage Paradox


Published today:
Holtorf, Cornelius (2024) The Climate Heritage Paradox – how rethinking archaeological heritage can address global challenges of climate change. World Archaeology. DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2024.2320122

For archaeology to address adequately the global challenges of climate change, it needs to resolve the Climate Heritage Paradox which consists of two contradictions. Firstly, in contemporary society, when humanity anticipates and prepares for climate change and associated transformations, archaeological and other cultural heritage predominantly look backward and emphasize continuities. Secondly, when humanity on Earth needs panhuman solidarity, trust, and collaboration to be able to face enormous global challenges together, archaeological and other forms of cultural heritage are still managed and interpreted within frameworks of national governance. There is, therefore, a need for developing new understandings of cultural heritage that (a) are predominantly about stories of change and transformation rather than continuity and spatial belonging, and (b) express a need for humanity to collaborate globally and overcome national boundaries. This will protect and enhance the benefits of archaeology and cultural heritage in the age of climate change.

Available in open access: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/00438243.2024.2320122

(Picture above by Tracey Williams, full credit in the paper)



My Wednesday Pizza Talk at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology attracted an audience of cirka 40 undergraduate and graduate students, researchers and Faculty.

I discussed the connections between Archaeology, Heritage and the Future, using examples ranging from prehistoric futures to UNESCO World Heritage properties to contemporary long-term repositories for nuclear waste. I also discussed the concept of ‘heritage futures’ and how it matters in relation to sustainable development and to addressing challenges posed by climate change and violent human conflicts.

I concluded summarising what the Archaeology of the Future is all about and what it takes to become a Future Archaeologist oneself – with inspiration from Disneyland.