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Research themes

Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture

Within the wide-ranging and interdisciplinary domains of the school, AHM particularly excels on national and international levels in five research areas (‘themes’) that cross and connect the fields of heritage, memory studies and material culture.

Each of these themes relates to several working research groups in the school, but has in principle a rather open character, and closely collaborates with the other research themes and research groups:

  • Museums & Memorials

Theme Leaders: Prof. Christa Maria Lerm-Hayes & Dr. Mirjam Hoijtink

This theme examines how art, cultural objects and artefacts as well as their stakeholders engage with and give shape to cultural heritage and memory. Practices of creating, collecting, archiving, presenting and preserving art are not neutral practices, but choose, select and interact with objects, with memories, peoples, places and debates. We study memorialisation (e.g. performative embodiment), as well as the often contested interpretation and commodification of heritage, memory, and material culture. These practices include canonisation, musealisation, appropriation, restitution, and the (selective) care for or adaption of objects such as in conservation and restoration. In a globalising world, we reflect critically on their creation, mediation, institutionalisation and study as the social construction of the past and of future public memory.

  • Heritage & Conflict

Theme Leaders: Prof. James Symonds & Prof. Rob van der Laarse

This theme explores the heritage of conflicts and the memory boom in the present, as well as the activation of heritage and memory as means of conflict resolution. We study the heritage of conflicts through historical archaeology and musealisation of the contemporary past, the (re)presentation of war and concentration camps, testimonies, forensics and Holocaust research. This includes dissonant heritages and contested and multidirectional memory, social forgetting and silencing, spatial erasure and cultural othering, restitution, reparation, looting and the destruction of cultural heritage and property. The theme analyses the heritage of conflicts in the contemporary context of post-conflict and memory wars, the growing commodification and (digital) accessibility of heritage and the role of (dark-)tourism as well as post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation and local socio-economic development for deeply wounded societies across the world.

  • Transnational Memory Narratives 

Theme Leaders: Prof. Robin Boast & Dr. Ihab Saloul

This theme investigates the dynamics of memory, materiality and the politics of narrative, broadly conceived, in relation to identity formation and material culture agencies. This includes intergenerational and transnational memory, colonial heritage and traumatic remembrances, migration, borderscapes and diasporic communities, performances, significations and representational technologies, as well as a critical, ontological reflection of cultural processes of intermediation and modes of polycultural encounters, and examinations of these changes in the context of accelerated globalisation, multiculturalism, and transnationalism. The theme seeks to rethink narrative acts in relation to sovereignty and ownership, as well as the uses and abuses of heritage and memory beyond methodological nationalism.

  • Digitality & E-Memories

Theme Leaders: Prof. Julia Noordegraaf

The theme examines digital technologies and they ways in which they influence the production, transmission of and engagement with cultural heritage and memory. Research in this domain focuses on the challenges and opportunities of digitality for the selection, collection and conservation of cultural heritage, as well as its display and reuse within and outside cultural heritage institutions, both online and offline. The theme also contributes to the valorisation of knowledge by collaborating with heritage professionals and private partners in the creative industries in developing new tools and applications for cultural heritage.

  • Materiality & Material Culture

Theme Leaders: Prof. Maarten van Bommel & Dr. Patricia S. Lulof

Research within this theme focuses on the analysis, documentation, interpretation of materials and material culture in the past and in the present, including archaeological monuments and sites. This also encompasses the study of historic landscapes, the production, consumption and degradation of (art) objects and their materials as well as their interpretation and entanglements with people. By choosing an explicitly interdisciplinary approach—combining humanities-based methodologies, scientific analysis and (digital) reconstruction—we seek new perspectives on the notion of materiality. In an effort to move beyond modernist dualities and ontologically pre-determined taxonomies of objects, the theme will also delve into the temporality and spatiality of the ‘sociomaterial nexus’ and investigate object biographies, material life cycles, material agency, relational ontologies, the role of authenticity, as well as processes of change and degradation that influence meaning and interpretation.