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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre



22nd Cambridge Heritage Symposium

Confronting Uncertainty: Heritage Pasts and Presents in Flux


McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge  

19-20 May 2022



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.   

This conference sought to explore the links between heritage and uncertainty in our pasts and presents. Proposals were invited addressing heritage issues from across these two timeframes.  



The 22nd Cambridge Heritage Symposium was held as a hybrid online and in-person event for speakers and attendees. 


Date and Time

The 22nd Cambridge Heritage Symposium took place on Thursday 19 and Friday 20 from 10:00 to 17:00 UK time (BST). 



Registration for this event is now closed.


Keynote Speakers

The Cambridge Heritage Research Centre were delighted to host our distinguished Keynote Speakers for this Cambridge Heritage Symposium. 

Uncertain Pasts

Professor Erin L. Thompson

Schrödinger’s Past: Indeterminate Interpretations of Controversial Public Memorials

Erin L. Thompson holds a PhD in Classical Art History and a JD, both from Columbia University. She is an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College (City University of New York), where she studies the damage done to cultural heritage and communities through looting, theft, and deliberate destruction of art (as well as its deliberate preservation). She is the author of Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale, 2016) and Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of American Monuments (Norton, 2022).


Uncertain Presents

Professor Þóra Pétursdóttir 

Sustainable Uncertainty: Nature, Heritage and Change

Þóra Pétursdóttir is Associate Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo. Her research combines contemporary archaeology, heritage studies and environmental humanities and draws strongly on the theoretical frameworks of New Matierialisms and Posthumanities. Her previous work has focused on (among other matters) the topic of material memory and suggested a more constructive understanding of material processes such as decay/ruination/fragmentation in heritage contexts. She has also explored understandings of the Anthropocene in archaeology and reflected on how climate change challenges archaeological thinking and practice. Her work has always transgressed and problematised the boundary between nature and culture. This divide, and the “nature of heritage” writ large, is also the focus of her current research where notions of sustainability and more-than-human ethics are of central concern. This is the focus of her ongoing research project Relics of Nature: An Archaeology of Natural Heritage in the High North ( ), which assembles a team of interdisciplinary scholars to rethink matters of loss, transience, sustainability and ethics in a changing world.




Day 1 - Uncertain Pasts

10:00-16:30, Thursday, 19 May 2022

10:00   Registration

10:30   Welcome Address

10:45   Keynote Lecture - Prof Erin L. Thompson

   Schrödinger’s Past: Indeterminate Interpretations of Controversial Public Memorials

   Keynote Q & A 

11:45   Break

12:05   Session 1: Politics and Nationalism

13:05   Lunch

14:05   Session 2: (Un)certainty and Materiality 

15:05   Break

15:35   Session 3: Uncertainty and Colonialism


18:45   Conference Dinner (Millworks, Cambridge)


Day 2 - Uncertain Presents

10:00-16:30, Friday, 20 May 2022

10:00   Keynote Lecture - Prof Thora Petursdottir

   Sustainable uncertainty: Flux and the natures of heritage

   Keynote Q & A 

11:00   Break

11:20   Session 4: Widening Definitions of Heritage

12:20   Lunch

13:20   Session 5: Heritage Interpretation and Management

14:20   Break

14:40   Session 6: Risk

15:40   Concluding Remarks