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Europe and Contentious Cultural Heritage

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Christopher Whitehead, Dr Francesca LanzORCiD


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This second issue of TRACES Journal has been designed as a dialogue among the scientific coordinators of some of the most recent European Union’s flagship research projects focusing on museums and heritage studies, including some recently concluded programmes as well as some newer researches launched under the H2020 umbrella. Despite obvious differences, all of these projects share a common attention on contemporary social and economic issues, and a view to developing instrumental cultural policy, advancing museum and heritage practice and, ultimately, ameliorating key contemporary problems. Our time, however, is one of upsetting changes. Some years after the commencement of the first research programmes included here, European socio-cultural and political reality has undergone dramatical shifts, connected to phenomena that were not entirely predictable at the time they were funded. The heightened profile and nature of terrorist threats signalled by the escalation of attacks and their violence, the refugee crisis and EU countries’ different responses to it, the collapse of the Greek economy, BREXIT, the increasingly difficult relations with (and sometimes between) the historic ‘Europe makers’, Turkey and Russia, the entrenchment of nationalist movements and parties, the mobilization of exclusionary European identities, an entirely changed global situation connected to conflict in the Middle East... These are all factors that were (largely) beyond view in the first major tranche of EU-funded research into museums and heritage, and to which current projects must adapt. Arguably the current economic and political crisis of Europe is also a crisis of values and identities; it is a cultural crisis. In such a context it is increasingly evident how social and political conflicts between and within European states are acted out also on the field of culture, including heritage institution and practices. We invited selected scholars who are currently or recently involved in major EU funded research programmes in the field to reflect on what this changed world means for our research and for museum and heritage practice. We called upon them to question what roles heritage can and should play to address social division and crisis in Europe. We asked them about the focus and the scope of their projects and their relevance in view of contemporary social, political and economic issues affecting Europe and its inhabitants; the expected impact of their research as well as the influence of EU political and funding agendas on the framing of their programme, its lines of enquiry and methods. Their work stresses the potential relevance of research programmes in critically confronting the multifarious, inherently complex and often contentious European heritages. The contributors address the drives to develop new approaches to the effective study, use and transmission of heritage and to identify practice that can productively acknowledge diversity, dissent, and event frictions. What emerges clearly from their words is the critical place of heritage within the public sphere as well as the need for developing discourses on heritage that go beyond instrumental political stances. They also recognize the unavoidable challenge of thinking through heritage inrelation to questions about identity and society, nation and nationalism, and historical and contemporary understandings of Europe and being European. They believe – as we do – that these are the present and future challenges for museum and heritage studies in Europe, that they might be truly relevant, within and beyond the academic sphere.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Whitehead C, Lanz F

Publication type: Editorial

Publication status: Published

Journal: TRACES

Year: 2017

Volume: 2

Online publication date: 16/02/2017

Acceptance date: 16/02/2017

Publisher: TRACES