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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre


Cambridge Heritage Symposium


Heritage is used as an anchor – a generator of certainty that keeps our senses of self and identity secure, reaffirming our feelings of place and belonging through turbulent times. Heritage is turned to as a constant in times of change. Increasingly, however, this security we search for in heritage has been thwarted. While the future has always been uncertain, now the seemingly firm foundations of the past have been unsettled. We have seen more recently how previously accepted national narratives are being reckoned with, particularly in the contexts of empire, slavery and colonialism. The perceived stability of heritage has thus been shaken to its core, unsettled by challenges about its origin, ownership, purpose, and manifestations.  

The 22nd Cambridge Heritage Symposium was held on 19-20 May 2022 and focused on Confronting Uncertainty: Heritage Pasts and Presents in Flux. The symposium sought to explore the links between heritage and uncertainty in our pasts and presents. The keynote lectures by Prof Erin L. Thompson (John Jay College, City University of New York) 'Schrödinger’s Past: Indeterminate Interpretations of Controversial Public Memorials' and Prof Þóra Pétursdóttir (University of Oslo) 'Sustainable Uncertainty: nature, heritage and change' are available to view on the CHRC YouTube Channel.


The annual Cambridge Heritage Symposium (CHS) was set up in 1996 as a forum for discussing and sharing ideas, questions, and case studies arising from working with or studying heritage. In short we wanted to provide an opportunity for talking and thinking together around topical issues within the wide framework of heritage studies. 

We soon learned that there were additional benefits. Chief among these are the new networks that emerged around each gathering; the opportunity of gaining glimpses into how heritage is debated within diverse fields has been immensely valuable to us as a research community. Another outcome has been the continuous challenge to our own perceptions of heritage studies are (or what they could be), and reflections on the position of this area within both academia and professional practice. 

The conferences have been instrumental to recognizing the varied forms of heritage, the wide-ranging interest in the field, and the many ways heritage is being studied and practiced – confirming the centrality of this field and the many areas it contributes to.

From the outset the Symposia have aimed to create an annual forum to bring together students, university and independent researchers, heritage practitioners and managers, to thinking critically and creatively about issues within the field. The themes of the Symposia have varied from exploring ‘Heritage that Hurts’ and ‘Heritage Methodologies’, and topics like the ‘Olympic Heritage’, ‘1914 Re-inherited’, ‘Packaging the Past’, ‘African Heritage Challenges’ and ‘Heritage and Revolution’. Over the years the organisers sought to retain the strong emphasis on discussion, and have aimed at days that focus on learning together.  


Previous Annual Heritage Symposia

  • CHS21 (2021) - A Taste for the Past: a symposium in honour of Prof Marie Louise Stig Sörensen | website
  • CHS9 (2008) – Packaging the Past | report