Heritage at Risk
Heritage is our inheritance from the past, which we must preserve for future generations. It is both tangible and intangible and its values can differ significantly to different communities, groups and stakeholders.
Heritage is also at risk. Cultural heritage values have always been adaptive and reflexive, being continually redefined and reshaped by cultural and physical processes. Yet, some of these processes push heritage beyond its adaptive capacity and are a threat to its very survival. Not all of these threats are new. It has been 50 years since States Parties signed the World Heritage Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which aimed to promote cooperation among nations to protect heritage around the world. Some threats, like conflict and development remain. Others, like climate change are emerging challenges gaining importance and urgency in the 21st-century.
There are ongoing debates involving heritage professionals, practitioners, academics and NGOs about the threats and risks to cultural and natural heritage through ‘global challenges’, such as climate change, urbanization, conflict and migration. Strategies for inclusivity, consent and co-creation within the heritage sector which integrate heritage into decolonisation initiatives in particular, are crucial to addressing each of these challenges.
Climate change represents the single greatest threat to our cultural heritage globally. Impacts are global and vary significantly, from sea-level rise and coast erosion to desertification and erratic weather patterns. Yet cultural heritage is not just impacted by climate change, it is also a powerful resource for climate action and justice. The Heritage Hub at QUB is also a member of the Climate Heritage Network, which was founded in 2019 to bring policy makers, heritage professionals, academics and others together to work on climate change related heritage issues.
Heritage Hub Research
Members of the Heritage Hub are working on a wide range of projects exploring the intersection between climate change and cultural heritage from recording vulnerable sites and planning for loss and damage, to carbon mitigation in the built environment. They are also exploring climate adaptation and heritage solutions based on historical land management strategies and the traditional ecological knowledge of communities around the world, both past and present. These societies are invaluable repositories of information about climate adaptation. Finally, heritage is a powerful vehicle to stress urgency about climate change in an emotive and engaging way.
It is important for all of us and all our futures that these debates are engaged with, and Heritage Hub researchers and partners are actively involved in collaborating on projects exploring global heritage and its local impacts, across the world, in varying spatial contexts. We have particular expertise in a wide range of countries around the globe, on every continent. Current projects have focused on Bangladesh, India, Surinam, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, and the United States to name but a few.
Strengthening partnerships and collaborations is critical, for heritage globally has a role to play in a range of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whether through debates on tangible heritage or intangible heritage, or indeed both. An integrated approach, where tangible and intangible heritage are understood together, working with communities and NGOs, is proven to be a sound basis for global heritage projects. It will also help strengthen our innate ability to translate across our diverse cultural traditions. Here our recent research activity in Majuli, in India, on climate change and ‘hidden heritage’, led by Dr. M. Satish Kumar, is a good example of what can be achieved through closer collaboration between local stakeholders and communities and global researchers and networks. The project focuses on ‘Engaged Research’ initiatives with the Indigenous communities and those who have been culturally, politically and economically marginalized. This helps to ensure opportunities towards achieving equality, equity, diversity, inclusivity and empowerment among marginalised communities.