Rising from the Depths network
The arts and humanities have a key role to play in development work, according to the leader of the Rising from the Depths network, a new Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded project studying marine cultural heritage along the coast of east Africa in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar.
“I simply don't think you can have sustainable development without a place for the arts and humanities,” says Dr Jon Henderson, who is an Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Nottingham. “we provide a deep time perspective and, most importantly, cultural context and understanding”.
He will lead a team conducting research on coastal and offshore infrastructure developments in East Africa, exploring ways in which local communities can engage with marine heritage for educational, social, and economic development.
“What really kicked us off is that there is currently a huge amount of infrastructural development work taking place in East Africa. Major off-shore oil and gas discoveries are driving international investment, as is the development of super ports to facilitate maritime trade, and very little of this is taking place with any regard to marine cultural heritage,” says Dr Henderson.
“All too often local people don't have a voice with these kinds of projects. But looking at cultural heritage is a way of giving those locals a voice and making sure that they are part of the process.
“At present development projects and agreements rarely take account of marine cultural heritage. Many of these projects are aid funded and as a result they need to be ethical - access to cultural heritage is a human right.”
The interdisciplinary project will last four years and will apply an innovative methodology and will be grounded on the Human Rights Approach to Development.
Marine cultural heritage means anything affected by human maritime action, from underwater sites to ports, harbours, settlements, geomorphology, ecosystems - and more intangible features, such as linguistic expressions, local skills and beliefs.
“We're taking a very multi-disciplinary approach,” says Dr Henderson. “So yes, there will be archaeologists, anthropologists and historians. But also scientists, policy makers, UN officials, heritage professionals and more. We want to show how heritage can be be part of sustainable growth and make sure everyone benefits from it.”
The project is funded by the AHRC and will be one of five major new international academic networks being set up by universities in the UK and the ‘global south’ to conduct collaborative research into some of the world’s most pressing development challenges over the next four years.
Through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) these networks will together access more than £9 million from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion Government fund that supports the UK’s role in global development research.
In an era of air travel our understanding of the sea has been diminished - even though we still rely on it and over 90% of cargo is transported around the world by sea.”
“Talking about the 'lessons of history' can risk making you sound a bit clichéd. But there are things we can learn and it's important to take them into account,” says Dr Henderson.
Working through networks suits this area of research, perfectly, according to Dr Henderson. “We have ten PhDs set up that will be funded by local institutions and their work will act as a way of training up a local cohort of researchers. There will be an academic impact from bringing all these groups together and giving them an opportunity to work with one another.
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Rising from the Depths
“The progress of humanity has always been linked to the sea. But this has been neglected and we don't give it the attention it deserves. You might learn about the industrial revolution at school, but you won't learn about the maritime revolution. And yet it was contact with the sea that brought people together, that created complexity and inspired the innovation that we see around us today.
“In an era of air travel our understanding of the sea has been diminished - even though we still rely on it and over 90% of cargo is transported around the world by sea. And it's vital to our survival; we depend on the ocean's biodiversity and that biodiversity has in turn been shaped by human activity.
“We hope we will raise awareness of the importance of the sea to communities around the world over time and help give a voice to those that still live along the coastline today.”
Header image: Lamu Old Town, Kenya, a Swahili town occupied for 700 years. Copyright: UNESCO World Heritage
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