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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre


24th Annual Cambridge Heritage Symposium Heritage Expertise: Paradigm or Platitude?

19-20 June 2024, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Abstract: The criticisms of the Authorised Heritage Discourse (AHD) by Laurajane Smith highlighted the significance of marginalised communities and the need to include their voices in heritage-making processes (2006). Smith’s argument, which focused on the socio-political underpinnings of heritage, expanded the limits of our understanding. More importantly, she highlighted that what we choose to select from the past is always subject to the values and the needs of the present.

Her approach, together with the participative turn in the social sciences, initiated a dialogue about the significance of different participants beyond experts in the heritage-making process and the different modes that this participation requires. The increasing support for the global role of Indigenous people in heritage practice and the demands for the decolonisation of heritage knowledge and practice are manifestations of the need for widening participation in the heritage sector. The 2005 Faro Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society marked the crucial step towards thinking differently about the roles to be discharged in heritage if we want to fulfil the promises of inclusion, sensible dissemination and education.

A decade ago, John Schofield posed some pertinent questions about the ‘key skill sets’ that those who work in the heritage sector need to guarantee wide social engagement (2016). Schofield’s interrogation about the required skills for heritage highlights that although the participative turn brought forward the significance of wider engagement within the heritage process focusing on marginalised communities around the world, we still need to understand the roles that participation requires from heritage, and the necessary skills to exercise participation and respond to the demands of participation. This Symposium responds to Schofield’s thought-provoking questions and will provide the first constructive attempt to critically interrogate the skills and roles of those working and researching within heritage spheres. More importantly, the symposium makes an innovative and significant contribution to heritage theory, practice, and methodologies by focusing on skills and roles, some of which have been overlooked by the participative turn in heritage theory and practice.

Submission guidelines: We welcome proposals from cross-disciplinary backgrounds which address the unique challenges and opportunities that accompany reframing the role of expertise in heritage. We welcome contributions which aim to address the following types of questions: ▪ How do we define heritage expertise? ▪ What kinds of skills are necessary for heritage expertise? ▪ How can ethical values shape our understanding of heritage expertise? ▪ How does decolonisation challenge Western concepts of heritage expertise? ▪ What are the epistemological and ontological implications of challenging established concepts of heritage expertise? ▪ What opportunities can digitisation and globalisation afford for heritage expertise? ▪ Can the role of communities and/or grassroots movements in heritage interpretation expand the boundaries of heritage expertise? ▪ Do current heritage methodologies respond to the demands of inclusive participation in heritage expertise?

Please submit expressions of interest, including an abstract of no more than 300 words by Monday 22nd April 2024 to the organisers at Successful submissions will then be invited to present their work at the Symposium, which will take place between the 19th and 20th of June 2024 in the McDonald Building, Downing Site, University of Cambridge.

Organisers: Sofia Bourantoni, Oliver Moxham and Kieran Gleave.




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

  • CHS9 (2008) – Packaging the Past | report