As socio-economic change, conflict and movements of people transform the world’s physical, social and cultural landscapes, debates about what constitutes the cultural heritage of different peoples in different places are becoming increasingly important in academic and policy agendas. Current debates about cultural heritage in China tend to emphasise heritage management issues, including the means and methods of conservation, the relation between conservation and economic development, and between state and local practice. Similarly in Europe, heritage management is a dominant theme in heritage studies and practice. It is only relatively recently that heritage studies have begun to interrogate the distinctive histories and ‘models’ of heritage practised in different cultural sites. Incorporating memory, material culture and museum studies, as well as insights from art and architectural history and archaeology, new theoretical approaches to heritage demand complex and challenging methodologies, including the use of ethnographic fieldwork, and new technology and visual media to construct virtual heritages of cultural groups excluded from mainstream agendas.

This project network brings together researchers and practitioners working in the broad field of cultural heritage to exchange research and ideas about the key issues and implications of cultural heritage work. It seeks to shares interdisciplinary and cross-cultural experiences of heritage work and research to broaden the theoretical parameters of ongoing debates about cultural heritage. It also seeks to facilitate future research-based collaborations between China and Europe to contribute to heritage work across national boundaries in effectively responding to changing understandings and needs of cultural heritage, particularly at local community levels.

The participants of this project have experience of heritage work in China, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and in the disciplines of archaeology, art and architectural history, sociology, anthropology and material culture, history and cultural studies. Our project draws on this interdisciplinary expertise to address the complex methodological, theoretical, practical and policy implications of heritage work across different cultural settings, and in selected sites, under four themes:

  1. forms and ‘models’ of cultural heritage in urban change, and in the transmission of national and local cultural memory;
  2. collections and documentation (including the use of visual media and new digital technologies in creating virtual heritages);
  3. sustainability, focussing on the social, cultural, economic and methodological implications of local heritage projects;

Emerging out of a shared interest to go beyond disciplinary and area boundaries to exchange experiences, knowledge and insights about heritage work in different environments, this project therefore seeks to move beyond the dominant language of heritage work used in international and national regulatory frameworks to interrogate meanings and models of heritage across diverse historical, cultural and local perspectives, as well as from different methodological perspectives. In pooling our expertise in this way we hope to:

  1. build up a comparative picture of how local/national approaches to heritage work are moulded by particular histories and political systems, as well as by dominant international agendas;
  2. identify understandings of cultural heritage in specific localities that are excluded from the dominant agendas of heritage management;
  3. examine the methodological and theoretical implications of facilitating notions of cultural heritage and cultural memory in settings not generally included in dominant agendas;
  4. examine the conceptualisations and practices of heritage work that occur in migratory, diasporic settings;
  5. examine the applicability of different models of heritage work for local cultural sustainability, social cohesion and well-being (including cultural tourism), as important issues for policy agendas.

Interest in and concerns about cultural heritage will continue to grow and to occupy the attention of urban planners, museum curators, heritage policy makers, as well as tourist and cultural industries across the globe. In critically engaging with its unfolding meanings and requirements, as defined by local communities as well as national institutions, our project hopes to make an innovative contribution to the formulation of policies and practices, designed to preserve different kinds of heritage for the enrichment of China’s and the globe’s present and future.

For further information, contact Harriet Evans.