Heritage in the twenty-first century
Our interdisciplinary research interrogates how the past is recreated as heritage in relation to the social, cultural and political preoccupations of the present, and how heritage is understood, used and experienced by individuals, groups and communities, across a range of historical and geographic contexts. This focus encompasses the practices of heritage professionals who conserve, curate and manage the material remains of the past.
Current and recent research projects and other activities
DigiPiCH Civic Museums Project (AHRC funded): Co-Investigator Dr Craig Jordan-Baker. PI: Dr Lara Perry.
Current and recent PhD research
Kristin O’Donnell: Participatory Practices of Memory: Memorialising the Great War in Britain during the Centenary Moment. AHRC/Techne National Productivity Investment Fund studentship in partnership with Dover Arts Development.
Kasia Tomasiewicz: Memory in the Museum: Representing the Second World War in the Imperial War Museum, London. AHRC/TECHNE Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Award with the Imperial War Museum. (Phd awarded 2020)
Staff researchers, postdoctoral researchers and honorary research fellows
Dr Thomas Carter; Dr Paul Gilchrist; Dr Craig Jordan-Baker; Dr Jo-Anne Lester; Dr Deborah Madden, Kristin O’Donnell; Dr Catherine Palmer; Dr Hannah Thurston; Kasia Tomasiewicz, Dr Lesley Whitworth, Dr Julia Winckler.
For further details of individual research interests, see our Pure profiles.
Contact: Dr Catherine Palmer C.Palmer3@brighton.ac.uk
Heritage creation draws from events, practices and places, objects, landscapes and buildings, memorials, rituals and traditions, people and ideas to create narratives of meaning for contemporary consumption; narratives implicated by notions of inheritance and value woven into the word ‘heritage’. We investigate how the idea of heritage has come into being, what authority resides within its framing and what consequences ensue for the people, places and events increasingly drawn into the heritage sector.
Heritage narratives serve as material, symbolic and emotional repositories from which understandings of identity, nationhood and belonging can be constructed. Heritage matters, therefore, because appeals to the past are frequently employed by individuals, communities, institutions and elites to challenge or lay claim to a version of the past that legitimises identities, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour in the present. Appeals to the past as heritage can be used to authenticate or negate a group’s right to exist, their right to own and occupy land, to hold beliefs and engage in meaningful practices. Such uses of the past have cultural, legal and political implications for the present. They also have ethical and moral consequences particularly when the heritage in question relates to conflict, war and violence or supports ideologies of discrimination.
It is important to understand how and why the structures of power and politics, culture and commerce, affect and experience underpin the ‘work’ of heritage at the level of the everyday. How individuals, community groups and societies, visitors to museums and heritage sites experience and make meaning from constructed encounters with the past. Encounters made meaningful through the work of heritage professionals. Understandings of time and temporality are central to the creation, curation and experience of heritage. Understandings of time and temporality are central to the creation and experience of heritage. Yet ‘heritage time’ sits alongside alternative understandings and experiences of time that lay bare the structural and social inequalities, conflicts and regimes of power from which heritage products and experiences are created, such as slave trade heritage, post-colonial heritage and dark tourism. Although encounters with heritage time can be positive they may also raise unsettling and painful questions about the ways in which the past interacts with the present.
Our approach encompasses distinct but overlapping areas:
1. Identity, materiality and memorialisation
2. Heritage temporalities: space, place, ritual and myth
3. Medical heritage; heritage and wellbeing
4. Crime-related tourism and criminal justice heritage
5. Regeneration through heritage: community narratives
6. Narratives of discrimination, displacement and exclusion
These areas are underpinned by the Centre’s collaborative relationship with The Uses of the Past research centre from Aarhus University, Denmark. The main focus of this collaboration is Rethinking the Past: The Cultural Politics of History, Memory and Temporality, which embraces a shared interest in critical heritage studies. Within the University Heritage in the 21st Century works alongside parallel initiatives on heritage, such as The University of Brighton Design Archives, the Hasting’s Heritage Forum event 2014 Cultural Regeneration through Heritage: Hastings, heritage and local history, the CMNH Annual Heritage Symposium 2014-15 (Professor Robert Hewison keynote lecture), the CMNH 2015-16 heritage seminar series theme Heritage in the 21st Century; Heritage Lottery funded Sussex Traditions, founded in 2015 to collect, document, disseminate and encourage traditional lore, beliefs and activities including customs and crafts, songs and stories from across East and West Sussex.