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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre


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Conflict & Post-Conflict Heritage

Heritage and conflict come together before the first shots are fired, when it is used in propaganda to redraw and normalize new boundaries of belonging and identity. The relationship is drawn together even more tightly as the war begins, when the deliberate destruction of heritage is used as a way of targeting certain groups and communities. In the aftermath of this direct violence, and in the context of a transformed heritage landscape, the construction of an explicitly ‘revised’ heritage begins, in which different elements of the past are selected for reconstruction and others discarded. This research theme seeks to: i) explore the dynamics of cultural violence at the core of how heritage comes to be used during conflicts and in the aftermaths of such violence, ii) approach reconstruction processes as future-orientated actions in which decisions about the reconstruction (down to the materials and styles employed) have consequences for the values and means that the heritage comes to possess, and iii) the reparation strategies that include memorial practices and symbolic reparations to moral harm. To do this, researchers often work alongside and develop partnerships with international organisations (e.g. UN Security Council, UNESCO, the ICC) as well as NGOs working in the conflict-affected regions of the world. They seek to develop technologies and approaches to prevent destruction and respond to it. In doing so drawing on law, politics, anthropology and the digital humanities.

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Heritage Ecologies

Heritage Ecologies are attracting increasing attention across the humanities and the social and environmental sciences as individuals and different publics consider the consequences of ongoing global warming, globalisation, species extinctions and the loss of biodiversity. A central concern of this theme is the dismantling of deep-rooted nature:culture divides in favour of more holistic theoretical frames that recognise that the “cultural” and the “natural/biophysical” components of any landscape or process are mutually constituted through complex, dynamic and interactive relationships over the long-term. The theme explores the intersection of Indigenous and ‘traditional’ knowledge systems and practices, memory, landscape values, social and political constructions of culture and nature, land rights and social justice, and our ethical responsibilities to other species. Particular focus is placed on identify the contributions that tangible and intangible heritage can make to creating sustainable and resilient societies and devising means of demonstrating and implementing these in ways that go beyond a narrow focus on ‘heritage tourism’.

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Heritage Education & Museums

Heritage education is about enabling students to have the skills to make sense of the past in order to inform their understanding of the present, and to shape their future. This is an empowering process which enables them to understand that everything in the present is a product of different aspects of their heritage. Research in heritage education explores the best ways to make this happen. Such a process may occur in different contexts (on a field visit, in a museum, or in a virtual environment), and in different social environments: alone, with family, with friends etc. Understanding children's learning in such circumstances, drawing on educational research in formal and non-formal contexts, is the aim of this theme.

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Heritage, Memory & Identity

Heritage, memory and identity is at the core of how societies make sense of themselves, their pasts, presents and futures.The Centre takes a critical approach to the study of this three-part relationship bring both historical depth and geographical scope to an exploration of the narratives constructed and future-orientated strategies envisaged by society.

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Heritage & Migration

Migrations are part of the long-term history of the world, and with them come the movement and co-mingling of people, objects, traditions and ideas but also conflict, the erasure and disappearance of traditions, and challenges to socio-political norms. Wars, conflicts, poverty, and climatic changes have made migration one of the most substantial contemporary challenges in many parts of the world. It is well known that such migrations affect heritage, both through loss and through the generation of new heritage; but the impacts of these changes on wider social wellbeing are less clearly understood. Our overarching aim is further investigation into the roles heritage may take within forced migrations, especially those due to war or climate changes. These are socially fraught and psychologically damaging situations characterised by an overwhelming sense of loss. Can different forms of heritage (intangible and tangible) be used to regain a little sense of connections or re-connection to tradition and act as a source of pride and efficacy? To pursue these concerns at greater depth we hope to develop projects aimed at learning about heritage use within refuges camps and migrant groups. We also hope to investigate the impact of the offering of training (traditional craft, re-building) and capacity building – do such projects provide a sense of self determination and control? Finally, what fuels strong emotional ties to heritage also need to be better understood in order to use heritage in a proactive and targeted way. This means better understanding of what affects attachment to place, and what roles heritage, play in the resilience to change.

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Tangible & Intangible Heritage

The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which was passed by UNESCO in 2003, formalised a distinction between a heritage that is tangible in its materiality and another form of heritage that is about skills, crafts and knowledge. This distinction has caused considerable debate, in regards to legal instruments, recognition, preservation and impacts. Within this debate we aim to contribute to research that investigates the rationales and repercussions of this distinction, and to critically consider the implicit assumption that the distinction is universally relevant. We are particularly interested in exploring the nature of intangible heritage, its malleability and change. To this end we focus on the tensions between different forms of living heritage and the impact of heritage nomination – what factors influence whether the latter results in fossilisation of heritage or whether the ’intangible heritage’ will survive its nomination? Intangible heritage takes many different forms, all of which raise particular intellectual and social challenges. In our immediate research objectives we focus on so-called ‘heritage-language’ and on food heritage. Both are integral to how communities maintain distinctiveness; they are transmitted between generations, can travel, and are essentially performative forms of heritage. Yet, they can also be malleable and adaptive. They, therefore, raise fundamental questions about authenticity and how change can be absorbed or, alternatively, be disruptive of social cohesion. In doing so this research may challenge some of the presumptions embedded within the philosophy of the tangible-intangible distinction.

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