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Rethinking Heritage Studies


Dr. Thijs Weststeijn

Members of the research group

dr. L.A. Bialasiewicz dr. C.J. Birdsall dr. F.R.E. Blom prof.dr. R. Boast dr. P.A. Brouwer dr. C. de Cesari dr. Y. van Dijk prof.dr. F. Grijzenhout dr. M. Hogenbirk dr. M.H.E. Hoijtink dr. K.A. Johanson prof.dr. E.A. de Jong prof.dr. J.C. Kennedy dr. T.M.C. van Kessel B.J. de Kloet prof.dr. J.J.E. Kursell prof.dr. R. v.d. Laarse prof.dr. S. Leydesdorff dr. M.M. Lok prof.dr. J.J. Noordegraaf dr. E. Peeren prof.dr. I.M. v.d. Poel dr. J.A.T. Rock prof.dr. V.T. van Rossem dr. I.A.M. Saloul dr. V. Tkaczyk prof.dr. T.L. Vaessens, prof.dr. J. Wadum prof.dr. A. Wallert dr. P.L. Westbroek dr. M.A. Weststeijn

Description of the research programme of the research group 

Presently heritage research, education, and management are hampered by the lack of an encompassing analytical survey. The proposed Handbook of Heritage Studies outlines theoretical foundations and devotes entries to issues such as identity and authenticity, cultural industries and networking, tourism and commodification, conflict and memorialization, hybridity and cosmopolitanism. It invites a scholarly community to seek a synthesis in the paradoxes that typify the field. Heritage Studies defines cultural canons while continuously rewriting them; it highlights the past’s importance for modern identities while at the same time pointing out the fundamental hybridity of historical objects. In the last decade, more than a dozen edited volumes devoted to Heritage Studies appeared. Yet these are all collections of case studies: most essays focus on historical examples or ‘best practices’ and are limited to specific periods and areas. No single book has provided an overview involving all humanities disciplines and the relevant social and natural sciences. Furthermore, the earlier books often depended on contemporary examples whose relevance is bound to diminish in the near future. The proposed Handbook therefore opts for entries devoted to concepts, theoretical themes, and criticisms in order to remain significant for later generations. Pairing a full range of survey articles to critical bibliographies, it will be the first reference work of its kind. The Handbook is compiled by an international community of specialists steered by a core group at the University of Amsterdam, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the museums and heritage institutions that benefit from the Dutch capital’s continuing history in a European and global context. An advisory board of ‘peers’ will guarantee the volume’s scientific quality. At present, first contacts have been established with major publishers in the English-speaking world. The Handbook’s main prerogatives are to: • Provide the theoretical framework for the full spectrum of objects of analysis, from painter’s pigments to religious rituals. • Expand existing theories that have originated within a specific discipline (e.g., imagology which was developed by historians of literature) by involving other categories of objects (e.g., material culture). • Provide a clear overview of the range of methodologies available, including an indication of their usefulness for specific areas of Heritage Studies. • Explore how objects were seen as markers of identity while pointing out that they resulted from transnational exchanges. • Deconstruct the processes in which heritage is claimed and mediated (including the mediation by digital humanities technology).• Critically reflect on the concept of heritage itself.

Envisaged results (max. 100 words)

Main result: Collective publication in print and online. Prospected publisher: Routledge UK. Ca. three introductory chapters (10.000 words each): 1) History of the concept of heritage from antiquity to the twentieth century 2) History of the rise of Heritage Studies as an academic discipline (1960s-2000s) 3) Outline of the main methodological issues and challenges 70-80 Entries (2000 words text, 500 words bibliography). Total 230.000 words. Side results: Yearly symposiums that bring the contributors together; concluding conference.

Work plan and time schedule

June 2013: Book proposal and set of sample entries offered to publisher. First symposium. December 2013: Deadline for entries. 2014: Book submitted to publisher. Second symposium. 2015: Review process and editing. Third symposium. 2016: Production and publication, concluding conference.

Societal relevance

The Handbook’s authors will include professionals from museums and libraries, curators and conservators, and others linked to Amsterdam’s heritage institutions and their international partners. Heritage Studies are predicated on the close interaction between academia, heritage institutions, government institutions, and private businesses. The Handbook will engage with their combined efforts, filling the need for a critical and conceptual perspective.