Heritage in the twenty-first Century interrogates the role of the past in the present, how it is used and experienced by individuals, groups and communities. An important focus is the creation and recreation of the past as heritage. Heritage draws from events, practices and places, objects, landscapes, and buildings, people and ideas to create narratives of meaning for contemporary consumption; narratives implicated by the notion of inheritance woven into the word ‘heritage’. The power of heritage is such that a heritage label is attached to a diverse range of cultural ‘products’ emanating from areas such as literature and architecture, art and fashion, museums, tourism and leisure. We interrogate how the concept and the idea of heritage has come into being, what authority resides within its framing and what consequences ensure for the people, places and events increasingly drawn into the heritage sector.
Our aim is to shine a light on the structures of power and politics, culture and commerce, affect and experience that underpin the ‘work’ of heritage, and in so doing better understand how life and living is influenced by engagement with the past and with heritage temporalities.
We explore how heritage is created, constructed, used and experienced across a range of historical, social, cultural and geographic contexts. ‘Use’ is complex and contested drawing as it does on selective memories of and about particular periods in time. 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.
Our approach encompasses distinct but overlapping areas:
1. Identity, materiality and memorialisation
2. Post colonial history as heritage: British Transatlantic slave trade
3. Medical heritage; heritage and wellbeing
4. Creating and experiencing heritage temporalities; post-conflict ‘heritage’; dark tourism
5. Regeneration through heritage; community heritage narratives (e.g. Sussex Bonfires)
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 research focusing on Heritage, Culture and Identity (Tourism, Hospitality and Events Research Group), 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.