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Heritage Research

Heritage has been identified by the AHRC as one of three priority areas, alongside Design and Languages.  Over the past few years AHRC has built upon its previous investments and enhanced its work in this area through partnerships with other agencies, targeted calls and collaborations both in the UK and internationally. Examples of this are the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Research Programme, the Connected Communities Programme and AHRC’s leading role in the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) on Heritage and Global Change.

The AHRC has developed a strategy for heritage research involving leadership and support for the continued development of heritage research as a vibrant, innovative, highly collaborative and cross-disciplinary research field. It draws on insights from across the arts and humanities as well as connecting with developments in science, technology and practice, leading to significant wider impacts and benefits both within the heritage sector and beyond.

The strategy takes a broad view of cultural heritage, incorporating, for example, the tangible, intangible, digital, intellectual, artistic, and the connections between them, and of heritage-related processes. The strategy also recognises that there are important research and practice issues surrounding the conceptualisation and use of the term ‘heritage’. The strategy is an evolving document informed by on-going engagement with the community. See our most recent version, updated in March 2018, of our AHRC Heritage Priority Area Strategy (PDF, 207KB).

Strategic Objectives and Framework

Four cross-cutting and interconnected objectives are identified which will inform AHRC’s future strategy for heritage research:

  1. To further develop heritage research as an innovative and broad cross-disciplinary field

  2. To extend collaborations, partnerships, knowledge exchange and pathways to impact in heritage research

  3. To strengthen global interconnections in heritage research

  4. To enhance research capability for heritage research as a cross-disciplinary and collaborative field of enquiry.

Key Research Areas

In developing the strategy the following broad and inter-connecting research themes have emerged as key areas for potential further development and opportunities:

  • Values and Cultural Heritage – eg: what counts as cultural heritage, how is it chosen, how does this change in increasingly diverse/plural societies, how does it shape identities, how and when are different types of heritage recognised, experienced, embraced, represented or ignored?
  • Community and Public Engagement, Inclusion and Diverse Heritages – e.g.: how, why and with what results do people engage with their heritage (and the heritage of others) and why does it matter to them? Whose voices get heard in decisions about heritage management and about what diverse or ‘at risk’ heritages are conserved for the future? How can academic research be better connected with public heritage activities (‘citizen history and heritage’) and how can this contribute to better understanding of processes such as commemoration?
  • Sustainable Management of Heritage – eg: are the paradigms of heritage protection that have served us well in the past are equally fit to respond to the challenges of the future? What new paradigms are emerging for managing / governing / making decisions about /engaging/ safeguarding/ adapting our cultural heritage in a rapidly changing world? How does heritage management need to adapt in the face of pressures such as those from infrastructure and urban development, more mobile populations and environmental change?
  • Future Heritages, New Uses/Re-Use of Heritages and exploiting the potential of Digital and other Technologies – eg: how can heritage be used as a resource for cultural, social and economic wellbeing beyond tourism and conservation? Can heritage help us to imagine and shape different futures for society? How can we identify, and conserve, the emergent heritages that will be of value to future generations? How can we support innovative uses of tangible and intangible heritage, heritage skills (e.g. crafts)?
  • Intangible, Emerging, Hidden and Contested Heritages – eg: how might emerging forms of future heritage be identified more effectively? How are new heritage discoveries reshaping understandings of the past and of other heritages and their significance? How might intangible heritages be more sustainably conserved and exploited in the future? How can arts and humanities research contribute to processes which uncover ‘hidden’ heritages, rediscover ‘lost’ heritages, make greater use of under-explored or reserve collections, understand ‘entangled’ heritages and/or enable the re-valuation and re-interpretation of under-valued heritages?
  • Changing Heritage Economies – eg: how can research further enrich heritage experiences and encounters and enhance the contribution of heritage to the growth of the experience economy? How can we better realise the potential for inter-disciplinary and collaborative heritage research to inspire creativity and innovation which contributes to the creative economy? How can we better understand the role that heritage plays in cultural ecosystems and clusters, place-making, infrastructure developments and local, rural, urban and regional economic development and to the digital economy?
  • Heritage, Contested Pasts and Conflict e.g.: how can research inform the management of heritages at risk from conflict/ fragile or aid ‘recovery’ from the loss of heritage? What role does illegal trade in heritage artefacts, or the use or destruction of heritage play in conflict contexts? How is heritage ‘appropriated’ or exploited in the perpetuation or prosecution of conflict? What role can heritage management and commemorative processes play in post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation processes?
  • Global Heritages, International Development and Global Challenges – e.g: How can heritage economies contribute to international development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals and/or to the development of aid and humanitarian strategies or ‘cultural diplomacy’? How can research inform approaches to addressing the challenges for heritage created by international development, globalisation, rapid urbanisation, climate change, and high mobility? Can critical heritage research play a role in facilitating tri-sectoral partnerships/collaborative governance in pursuit of tackling global challenges?  

Opportunities and Activities

AHRC has appointed a Heritage Leadership Fellow - Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. Starting his 3-year fellowships in January 2017, Professor Harrison will act as an ambassador for this strategically important area of research for the AHRC. Profession Harrison will play a crucial leadership role in the heritage research community, bringing together fresh thinking and ways of working, building new collaborations and identifying cutting edge UK based and international research. For more details on Professor Harrison’s Fellowship visit: www.heritage-research.org.

You can follow him on Twitter using the @AhrcHeritage handle.

Further information on any thematic or targeted funding opportunities, events, debates etc. will be added to this webpage as they emerge.

We are keen to point out there are of course opportunities to explore these areas within the AHRC’s responsive mode funding, such as Networking Grants, Large Research Grants and Fellowships, all of which operate without formal deadlines so proposals can be submitted at any time.

Contacts

Karen Buchanan, Strategy and Development Manager, Heritage
E: k.buchanan@ahrc.ac.uk,  T: 01793 416032