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Words by Gian Giuseppe Simeone

Critical Heritage in Europe

Coordinated by the University of Gothenburg

The CHEurope project focuses on developing a new theoretical and methodological framework for critical cultural heritage studies and their application for training in heritage management and the development of the cultural industries in Europe. Funded by the European Union as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network under the Horizon 2020 programme from 2016 to 2021, this collaborative project brings together a network of 8 key European academic and non-academic organisations from Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy and supports the research and training of 15 Early Stage Researchers from Europe and other parts of the world.

CHEurope explores the processes by which heritage is ‘assembled’ to inform more conventional aspects of cultural heritage designation, care and management. In so doing, research will have a more direct impact on future heritage policies and will be linked explicitly to new modes of training with a view to enable future practitioners to be aware of and to facilitate a more democratic and informed dialogue between and across various heritage industries and their audiences in the twenty-first century.

The new integrated approach to cultural heritage developed in CHEurope takes much of its inspiration from critical heritage studies. Critical heritage studies is an emerging interdisciplinary field which is concerned with exploring the ways in which the past is used in the present, covering research into what we choose (or not) to conserve and why we choose to do so; relations of power and the politics of the past in the present; processes of heritage designation, conservation and management; and the relationship between commemorative acts and public and private memory. The vitality of critical heritage studies was witnessed in the first international conference on the subject held in Gothenburg in 2012 when approximately 500 delegates attended.

Considering the fact that the domain of cultural heritage emerged initially outside academia through the applied field of heritage management, this conference was the first recognition of the fusion of the academic and the practical. The risk remains, however, that the two dimensions maintain their separate existence. In this respect, the CHEurope project develops an innovative research and training program aiming at strengthening their closer interaction in five sectors where cultural heritage is undergoing profound change: 1. Heritage futures in Europe, 2. Curating the city, 3. Digital Heritage, 4. Heritage and well-being, and 5. Heritage management and public engagement.

Critical studies of heritage and CHEurope thus have much to contribute to understanding and developing creative solutions to social, economic and ecological problems, which arise as a result of conflicts between different systems of value and their associated friction in contemporary societies. The fact that heritage is such an all-pervasive, global phenomenon, which has had a fundamental influence on how we have shaped and reshaped our built and natural environments, coupled with its powerful cultural influence in contemporary global societies, suggests that developing an oversight and a sense of its common concerns and the ways in which heritage is implicated in current and emerging ‘critical’ issues that face the world today is both urgent and long overdue.

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The Conference

This international conference will mark the CHEurope project’s conclusion and allow the presentation to the wider scientific community of the results obtained during more than 4 years of collaborative research. The 15 Early Stage Researchers funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network, the members of the academic staffs having supervised the training and research activities, as well as various highly renowned international keynote speakers will offer a renewed vision of the place that cultural heritage occupies in our societies and the role it can play in its future developments. A perspective whose topicality has suddenly and dramatically been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. From migrations to climate change, from the heritagization of the urban to digitality as a vector of communication and transmission of cultural heritage, and from the use of heritage as a therapeutic resource for improving psychological resilience and well-being to the interconnections between heritage, citizenship, policy, participation, politics and economy, the conference’s program explores the multiple ontologies through which cultural heritage redraws the future of Europe and the world.

Practical information

The conference will take place during 2 days, on the 15th and 16th October 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent funding and travel restrictions, it has been decided to hold the conference as a fully online Zoom webinar, freely accessible within the limits of available accounts.

Registration link for the participants: