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15.50  Troubled Waters, Stormy Futures: Heritage in Times of Accelerated Climate Change

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11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

In response to the guiding theme of the conference “What does heritage change?” this paper will explore how changes to the way we traditionally conceptualize “heritage” impacts on local identity, relationships to place, and heritage policy. 

Our paper is based on the results of a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project that explores what it means to lose heritage in times of accelerated climate change. The project focuses on three international case studies: two in the UK and one in the Pacific Island nation of Kirabati. Our UK based case studies were conducted in partnership with the National Trust in Durgan Village in Cornwall and Porthdinllaen in North Wales, where increased tidal flooding and coastal erosion threatens to destroy both natural and built heritage. Our third case study focuses on Kirabati, where even small rises in sea levels threaten large-scale destruction, to the extent that part of Kiribati’s adaptation program is planning for the migration of its entire population to new lands. 

The focus of our paper will be on disruption to the micro, the home, and the “small” patch of earth which represent sites of current or projected “heritage loss.” Using concepts such as De Silvey’s “anticipatory history,” “palliative curation,” and also ideas of “living with change” as our starting points, we will explore how the different communities respond to the prospect of climate-change-induced disruption and the challenges of accepting change. Following from this, we will consider what the long-term viability is of our current conceptualizations of heritage as place-based and static—drawing upon the UK’s National Trust’s motto of “for ever, for everyone,” and how our thinking about intangible heritage changes, or not, in times of mass physical dislocation. 

Our paper will consider the results of qualitative interviews with heritage practitioners in the UK to further understand how the challenge of preservation extends to Heritage organizations themselves, who find their traditional remit undermined by future prospects of climate change. Our interviews with different heritage organizations will offer a valuable and current insight into how heritage organizations are responding to these challenges. Such analysis within the project also leads to a refining of the concepts of “tangible” and “intangible” heritage and understanding of how they differ and intersect, and even how heritage has always been construed “against” the perception of external threat. Of particular interest is the way our case studies bring together a diversity of cultural views on the issues, and the potential for creative arts such as film and poetry to benefit from the discussion of these difficult topics.

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