Circulations of visitors and new identity: the case of the former concessions of Wuhan

Xinyu Li (Université Paris 1: Panthéon-Sorbonne, Complutense University of Madrid)

The preservation and protection of historical heritage in China have been going on since the 1980s. In 1982, several measures for identifying and protecting heritage at the national level were established. In 1985, China joined the World Heritage Convention. According to the 2019 report of the National Cultural Heritage Bureau of China, more than 4 thousand monuments were protected at the national level in China.

Compared with the traditional historic districts, there is a type of heritage with some peculiarities in China, i.e., the former concessions. Different from colonies, the sovereignty of the concession areas remained with China. However, the economy and administration of these places were under the control of the occupying countries. These districts were enclaves outside Chinese jurisdiction. Under the influence of communist ideology, they were considered a colonial symbol for about 30 years before the Chinese economic reform in 1978. Thus, this type of heritage built by a large state is, in a sense, dissonant (Tunbridge, Ashworth, 1996).

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the potential value for tourism and substantial commercial returns of this heritage category has been discovered (He & Wu, 2005). The unique cultural landscape of the concession districts offers an “exotic” image different from the general urban view in China. Under this background, cities with concession areas started projects to preserve and develop these heritages. For example, in 2002, the Xintiandi renovation project was completed in Shanghai. The former Italian Concession was requalified as New I-Style Town in Tianjin in 2009 (Lu, 2017). A renovation project of a street museum on Li Huangpi Road in Wuhan was launched in 2014 (Cheng, Yu, Li, 2017). The city governments often guide these projects. They often choose to put heritage preservation and touristification together. In this process, there is a significant population movement. Therefore, what is the result of the population movement of these projects?

Li Huangpi Road area after the renovation
Photo by Xinyu LI 2020

Li Huangpi Road (known as Yima Street) is the main street of the former Russian Concession, close to the former French Concession. The road is about 600 meters long and contains almost all the elements that make up a city: administrative buildings, residential buildings, police stations, business buildings, hostels, banks, schools, the hospitals, most built between 1910-1927 by the German architect Richard Sachse. In the first half and middle of the 20th century, most residents were local Chinese. It was not until the 1980s, with the economic and urban development, that large numbers of suburban and rural populations moved into the area, searching for jobs and renting these apartments. According to the surveys, most residents in this area are low-income and have a very high percentage of mobility. Many apartments are divided by plaster walls into small, temporary rooms for rent (Cheng, Yu, Li, 2017).

In 2000, a street museum was set up in the area to preserve and display the neighborhood’s architecture and culture. The facades of these buildings were replaced with old red bricks. Some presentation boards were set up to introduce the history of the neighborhood and the buildings. At the same time, several street committees were established with the government’s support. These committees organize activities and events to encourage residents to participate in preserving and promoting the local culture. The collective memory and cultural activities are combined with the daily life of the community residents.

The establishment of the “street museum” has made this area a public cultural space. The unique history and Western-style urban landscape attracted small companies and restaurants. After becoming a street museum, this area gradually gained many cultural and fashion facilities, such as photography studios, art salons, galleries, cafes, and bars. Some freelance artists and craftspeople rented vacant rooms to use as their offices. The combination of Western heritage with café-restaurants and art studios brought new mobility and dynamism to the neighborhood and created an image of an exotic western cityscape (Qiu & Liu, 2019). These images have attracted residents, and tourists from other cities to visit the area. This mobility has enhanced the visibility of this area. So, it gradually transformed from a traditional residential area to a multifunctional, commercial, cultural, and tourist area.

However, the completion of the renovation project and the mobility of artists and tourists have led to an increase in local consumption levels and the price of living. Lots of original residents could not afford these costs, so they moved to other areas of the city with lower spending levels. The vacant rooms are then used as restaurants or studios. This has led to the further cost of living increases and the departure of the original residents.

Today, Li Huangpi Road became a well-known tourist site, because of the Western-style buildings and various bars and restaurants (Chen & Xu, 2021). In this area, we could no longer see the elderly and low-income residents, but it is filled with a large number of young people. The road has become a great place to take photos, which are great to post on social media. It became equally a place to meet friends and have parties.

The departure of the original residents and the circulation of tourists hide or dilute the collective memory. The heritage with once colonial history has been given a new narrative and identity, becoming a public space for tourism, commerce, and entertainment. Both public and private actors are involved in their own way in the preservation and reuse of these architectural heritages. The building facades were preserved and restored as a material heritage, becoming a landmark symbol in the city.

Xinyu Li is an architect and Ph.D. Candidate in planning at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and geography at the Complutense University of Madrid. His research focuses on the heritization, touristification, and physical-social transformation of historical areas, with a specific interest in historical towns and Western-themed spaces in former concessions in China.

References

Chen, E., & Xu, H. (2021, June). Research on the protection and utilization of historical and cultural blocks under the New Museum Theory——Taking the Street Museum of Lihuangpi Road in Wuhan as an example. In IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 787(1). IOP Publishing.

Cheng, S., Yu, Y., & Li, K. (2017). Historic conservation in rapid urbanization: a case study of the Hankow historic concession area. Journal of urban Design, 22(4), 433-454.

He, S., & Wu, F. (2005). Property-led redevelopment in post-reform China: A case study of Xintiandi redevelopment project in Shanghai. Journal of Urban Affairs, 27(1), 1-23.

Lu, Y. (2017). De l’ancienne concession italienne de Tianjin à l’I-Style Town : enjeux et processus de la patrimonialisation et du développement touristique. Ph.D. thesis, University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France.

Qiu, J., & Liu, Z. (2019). The Charm of Slow Thinking—Taking the Street Museum on the Lihuangpi Road of Wuhan as an Example. In 3rd International Conference on Art Studies: Science, Experience, Education (ICASSEE 2019) (pp. 269-276). Atlantis Press.

Tunbridge, J. E., & Ashworth, G. J. (1996). Dissonant Heritage: The Management of the Past as a Resource in Conflict. Chichester: Wiley.

Festivals on the move: Cultural heritage, Indian migrant communities and Durgāpūjā in Helsinki

Xenia Zeiler, University of Helsinki

Festivals are important events and locations for migrant communities to live, stage and negotiate identity, heritage and culture – beyond borders. The festival Durgāpūjā is a perfect example for this, as it has extensively traveled with Indian communities, beyond many geographical and cultural borders. Today, the festival is characterized by elaborate public celebrations and pronounced community aspects in many places all around the globe, places that have become home to Indian migrant communities. The festival was added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list in 2021.

Historically, the worship of the goddess Durgā at the time of the year of today’s celebrations, in September or October, started out as celebrations restricted to private homes and partly temples. But the festival grew, partly because of an explicit community celebration factor. In the late 16th or early 17th century celebrations became public to a limited extend, as invited guests took part. Those early public celebrations were hosted by wealthy landlords, in order to negotiate or secure their political and other authority. In 1790, a preform of today’s Durgāpūjā public organizing committees originated. With this, a kind of democratization of the festivities occurred.

Durgāpūjā took the form of how we know it today – of a popular mass event with elaborate celebrations – in the 19th century, making it the arguably most popular Hindu festival in India and the Indian diaspora. The social interaction aspects were additionally enhanced and partly transformed since the late 20th century, with processes of mediatization. Today, all aspects of Durgāpūjā are highly mediatized – including the organizational activities surrounding the festival, such as planning and preparatory practices, and advertisement strategies that increasingly employ social media. Durgāpūjā committees in and beyond India increasingly communicate, coordinate and negotiate via social media, in order to organize and advertise the festival and activities surrounding it. The specific celebrations then serve as identity markers for the respective communities and support the committee’s and community’s authority. And of course, festival visitors make intensive use of social media, to capture and share their experiences. Not surprisingly, photos and videos are the by far most popular media formats to do so.


Durgāpūjā visitor in Mumbai taking a video during the celebrations. Photo by Xenia Zeiler 2016

Public, community centered celebrations are the predominant form of the festivities today, in India and worldwide. A committee consisting of mostly unpaid helpers is elected to represent a locality, neighborhood, or increasingly other units such as firms and big corporations. Festival activities commonly include rituals, cultural performances such as music and dance presentations, and joint activities such as cooking or drawing competitions.

That Durgāpūjā is celebrated in migrant communities world-wide is not a new thing. With migration, and with the formation of Hindu diasporas all over the world, Durgāpūjā moved as well. Specifically the community celebration has been popular in many big cities world-wide, and for many decades. Principally, such events are highly mediatized; most have webpages, Facebook groups, and make intense use of social media platforms. This follows a general trend: migrant communities frequently employ media, including journalistic and social media. One of the reasons for this is that migrant organizations often reach out to the public, to position and sustain themselves in diaspora environments, and for that use many tools and ways for self-representation. Outreach activities for example also include collaborations with museums and universities.

Let’s take an example: In Helsinki, the first Durgāpūjā was organized in 1999. It grew to become an important event for the Indian community, with appointed organizing committees consisting of volunteers. As is often the case in the diaspora, the celebrations became an explicit social event, offering a welcome chance to get together in the Indian community, and to jointly celebrate, present, and live cultural heritage. The Saturday celebrations in Helsinki are considered to be the main happenings and annually attract 100-120 visitors, from the capital city area and to some extend also other far-away places in Finland. The festivities in Helsinki include the popular and widespread happenings which accompany celebrations world-wide, such as cultural activities, namely music or dance performances, and kids’ drawing competitions. In 2017, a cooking contest was introduced. Photos and videos on all these happenings are constantly taken and shared widely by festival visitors.

Durga Puja 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. YouTube video.

Among the shared photos, selfies are the major format. That Durgāpūjā visitors choose selfies as primary way to portray and widely share their participation in a certain festival stays in line with the general trend of ‘selfie-mania’ in social media. And of course also selfies highlight the cultural heritage elements in the festival – dress, dance, eating home foods, singing familiar songs together – that are negotiated and lived when jointly celebrating.

And if you are interested to know more: check out the educational video game Durga Puja Beyond Borders! It was developed specifically to playfully yet educationally introduce various layers of Durga Puja festival culture, such as joint Durga Puja organizations and especially celebrations. It conveys educational content about the festival’s history and past and present ways of worshipping and jointly celebrating, in India and beyond. Moreover, it allows a glimpse into how festivals are important events and locations for migrant communities to live and negotiate identity, heritage, and culture – beyond borders.

Trailer for the educational game Durga Puja Beyond Borders, a collaborative effort of the University of Helsinki (Finland), Xenia Zeiler, and the Kolkata (India) based award-winning game development studio Flying Robot Studios, Satyajit Chakraborty.

Xenia Zeiler is Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Helsinki. Her research and teaching are situated at the intersection of digital media, culture and society, specifically as related to India and the global Indian community. Her research foci are video games and gaming in India, digital religion (especially Hinduism), global Hinduism, and Tantric traditions. She also researches and teaches aspects of (Global) Digital Humanities and popular culture, especially as related to India.

Photograph illustrating conflagration of local heritage and tourism

Mobilities: the blind spot of heritage studies

Maria Gravari-Barbas (EIREST, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

The relationship between mobilities and heritage is multifaceted, complex, and particularly favorable for understanding contemporary heritage development. Yet few publications examine the relationship between mobility studies and heritage studies. No reference to heritage is made in manuals on mobility, despite the diversity of the themes addressed (Adey et al., 2014; Urry, 2007). Conversely, in the field of heritage studies, heritage is most often seen as an endogenous social product originating within the region or area. For many researchers, heritage cannot be dissociated from national construction (Chastel, 1987). It is interwoven into the identity of the nation, contributing to the maintenance of a collective imagination around a sense of nationhood. More generally, heritage is understood as a social product of the ‘permanent’ inhabitants of an appropriated or claimed region within a scientific approach that establishes the local identity of the groups (social, cultural, or ethnic) living there. The role of temporary populations (or of populations perceived as temporary) in heritage development processes is, more often than not, most often neglected. This applies to migrations (whether voluntary or involuntary), nomadism, and tourist mobilities.

The relationship of tourist populations to heritage development also represents a blind spot in heritage studies. Although numerous works on the multiple relationships between heritage and tourism obviously do exist, such studies focus on the different ways in which tourism takes over heritage that is ‘already there’, often produced a very long time ago by indigenous populations, with a view to using or enhancing it for tourism purposes. Researchers focus on the impacts of tourism’s development of heritage, sometimes positive but more often than not negative. Before the middle of the 20th century, the bibliography on ‘mass’ tourism had already drawn a profile of tourists as destroyers of heritage. More recently, during these first decades of the 21st century and within a context qualified as over-tourism or tourismophobia (Milano, 2017), the relationship of tourists to heritage is approached from the angle of predation: tourists ‘consume’ heritage, visually or physically, in the sense that they wear out, destroy, and in all cases pervert the heritage visited. The legitimacy of tourist populations to ‘produce’ heritage, with tourists themselves being driving forces behind heritage development, is strongly contested.

A tourism heritagization?

The globalization of the tourism industry causes tourism to become an increasingly important producer of commodified heritage (Cameron, 2008), implying a dual logic in tension between standardization and territorial differentiation.

Work by researchers has highlighted the “world tourism boom” (Cazes, 1989:9) from the end of the 20th century onwards, with greater emphasis being placed on the impact of the consumption of heritage by tourists. However, such work pays much less attention to the production of heritage by tourist populations. Some studies, however, stress the need to move beyond the single idea of the impoverishment of local cultures due to globalized tourism, and instead to analyze the social relations between tourism production and consumption (Ateljevic and Doorne, 2003). Indeed, tourism has played a role as a producer of heritage in the areas in which it originated historically [notably in Europe with the Grand Tour]. More than in the past, however, it plays an active role today in the affirmation of heritage. The ‘tourist gaze’ (Urry, 1990) results in strong decision-making power. Heritage recognition is often exploited as a tourism label. The number of tourists visiting an area justifies the affirmation of heritage, far beyond the historical centers of the emergence of the notions of heritage and tourism. As one resident of Marrakesh said about the tourists who come to live more or less temporarily in the riads: “This fever for buying traditional houses is beginning to become a real phenomenon. Should we accept it as inevitable, as part of a global mutation? […] What on earth do they come looking for here? Have they understood something that we, the children of the country, have not?” (Kurzac-Souali, 2007, translation ours) The issue of hybridizations (Amoamo, 2011) and the role of tourism in contemporary heritage production is central to these questions, which explore the hypothesis that tourism functions as a “heritage-producing machine” (Gravari-Barbas, 2018).

To suggest that the gaze and actions of tourists can cause the creation and development of heritage may seem heretical. There are, however, several situations that demonstrate the way in which tourism has helped forge local cultures. Moreover, the emotional relationship these ‘temporary inhabitants’ have with heritage often results in real investment on their part (patronage, voluntary work, mobilization for the safeguarding of endangered elements) that extends far beyond the propensity to pay for the heritage visited (Gravari-Barbas and Jacquot, 2020).

My research aims at exploring the ways the ‘outsider’s’ actions and gaze transform the local site. Mobile populations’ actions turn riads into “maisons d’hôte”, galleries or museums and tenement buildings into signifiers of or monuments to migration. This happens because mobile populations see the places they visit or live in, by choice or by obligation, differently than the locals do. The cross-analysis carried out in this paper on two diametrically different case studies offer interesting ground for further generalizations on the role different types of mobilities can play in the heritagization process. This is the main aim of my research: to challenge the dominant approach of locally-oriented heritage and demonstrate the decisive role of mobilities, and their hybridizations, in heritagization dynamics and production (Gravari-Barbas, 2022).

References

Adey P.,Bissell D., Hannam K., Merriman P. and Sheller M. (2014) The Routledghe handbook of mobilities, London, New York: Routledge.

Amoamo M. (2011) ‘Tourism and hybridity: Revisiting Bhabha’s third space’, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 38, No 4, pp. 1254-1273.

Ateljevic I. and Doorne S. (2003) ‘Culture, Economy and Tourism Commodities: Social Relations of Consumption and Production’ Tourist Studies Vol. 3, No 2, pp. 123-141.

Cameron C. (2008) ‘The Marketing of Heritage; From the Western World to the Global Stage’, City & Society, Vol. 20, No 2, pp. 160-168.

Cazes G. (1989) Le tourisme international : mirage ou stratégie d’avenir, Paris: Hatier.

Chastel A. (1987) ‘La notion de patrimoine’, in Nora P. (dir.), Les lieux de mémoire, Volume 2:La Nation, Paris: Gallimard, p. 406-450.

Gravari-Barbas M. (2018) ‘Tourism as a heritage-producing machine’, Tourism Management Perspectives, Volume 25, Pages 173-176.

Gravari-Barbas M. and, Jacquot S. (2021), ‘From Tourism gaze to tourist engagement,a relational approach to heritage’, in Stock M. (ed), Progress in French Tourism Geographies, Routledge.

Gravari-Barbas M. (2022) Tenements in New York and riands in Marrakesh. Mobilities and the new paradigm of heritagization, in Cattan N., Faret L. Hybrid Mobilities, Transgressive spatialities, Routledge, p. 15-36.

Kurzac-Souali L. (2007) Architecture du Maroc, no. 17, 2004, Editorial

Milano, C. (2017) Overtourism y Turismofobia. Tendencias globales y contextos locales. Barcelona: Ostelea School of Tourism & Hospitality. 

Urry, J. (2007), Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Urry J. (1990), The Tourist Gaze, (2nd ed. Sage Publications, 2002).

Image : Riad heritagization. Resematization of local architecture by tourism © MGB, 2017

Personal Experiences as Heritage: Transnational Minority Memories in the National Museum

by Ulla Savolainen (Helsingin Yliopisto)

In the spring of 2020, the National Museum of Finland hosted a multimedia exhibition titled Ingrians – The Forgotten Finns by Lea Pakkanen, Meeri Koutaniemi, and Santeri Pakkanen. Lea and Santeri Pakkanen are journalists and an Ingrian Finnish daughter and father who migrated to Finland from Russia in the 1990s. They were the scriptwriters of the exhibition, while most of the exhibition’s photographs were provided by Meeri Koutaniemi, a well-known Finnish photographer and Lea Pakkanen’s friend.

Ingrians or Ingrian Finns are a group of people with connections to the historical Finnish-speaking population of the historical Ingria in Russia, located by the Gulf of Finland around St. Petersburg. During the 20th century, Ingrian Finns experienced multiple forced and voluntary migrations, including mass deportations and voluntary transitions within the Soviet Union as well as mass settlements to Finland during the Second World War and the following returns to the Soviet Union (as well as defections to Sweden) after the War. Finally, many Ingrian Finns (re)migrated to Finland at the turn of the 1990s, simultaneously with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Today, the majority of people with connections to Ingria’s historical Finnish-speaking population live in Finland, Estonia, Russia, and Sweden.

As an exhibition explicitly aiming at raising awareness amidst the Finnish audience about Ingrian Finns, their tumultuous 20th century history, as well as their status as part of the Finnish people, the museum exhibition explored issues related to personal and collective memory – or the lack thereof. Especially, it focused on the history of Stalinist repressions, the associated migrations of people, and the consequences of these movements by making use of historical information, material heritage, and most importantly, by remediating personal narratives of people of different ages with Ingrian identities. Visually, the exhibition space was dominated by Koutaniemi’s photographs that presented landscapes and spaces in contemporary Ingria and in Yakutia, Siberia (where many Ingrians were deported during the Soviet times), as well as photographic portraits of individuals whose personal experiences were included in the setting.

Interestingly, personal experiences of oblivion and silence of Lea and Santeri Pakkanen were also included. In fact, they operated as the exhibition’s meta-narrative. In a video component of the exhibition , the scriptwriters explained how they came up with the idea of the exhibition when visiting Santeri’s birthplace in Russian Karelia four years earlier. During this trip, they had found a sauna built by Santeri decades earlier. Moreover, they came across a goodbye note written in Russian and stating: “goodbye grandmother, neither cry nor long for”. The note was written on the sauna’s door to her grandmother by Lea, as a child, just before the family moved to Finland in the beginning of the 1990s. In the video, Santeri told – in an obviously emotional state of mind – that finding this particular door was the moment when the father-daughter pair understood that they needed to learn more about their family’s traumatic and transnational past. After discovering the door, they travelled in Siberia, Ingria, Karelia, and Finland, documenting places and collecting people’s stories in order to tell about Ingrian Finns’ tragic 20th century history and its neglected remembrance.

The wooden door was also present at the exhibition. It was placed next to photographic portraits of Lea and Santeri Pakkanen by Meeti Koutaniemi. Although the door’s factual history was linked with the moment when the Pakkanen family had voluntarily decided to move to Finland, decades after Stalinist repression and forced migrations, as part of the exhibition the door symbolized Ingrian Finnish pasts of multiple migrations, departures and the dispersal of communities and families more broadly. Not only did the door represent personal and private family memories but also remembrance of the history of a minority group in the premises of arguably the most significant national heritage institutions in Finland. Thus, the door participated in and exemplified a heritagization process, a symbolic metamorphosis of personal and private memories into collective and institutional heritage.

By representing memories related to a minority group’s past in a national museum, Ingrians – The Forgotten Finns thus exemplifies a more general trend in cultural history museums. As part of this novel orientation, museums have begun to transform themselves from repositories of (tangible) heritage items into facilitators of museum audiences’ affective and ideally empathetic engagement with the past by creating, performing, and presenting (personal) narratives, experiences, and memories (see e.g., Vergo 1989; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998; Macdonald 2003; Witcomb 2003; Arnold-de Simine 2013; Jõesalu & Kõresaar forthcoming 2022). With an ethical aim to promote inclusivity by presenting (contested) minority memories and marginalized histories, museums have started to self-reflexively deconstruct their earlier role as institutions that symbolize, create, and authorize monumentalizing narratives of nation states or empires.

Such representational strategies and novel societal functions are not, however, entirely without problems. Although museums wish to participate in solving societal challenges, especially publicly funded museums such as national museums can be argued as still performing “a public role of remembrance in which they are expected to represent a broad social or at least political consensus, producing narratives that form an integral part of national identity politics”, as Silke Arnold-de Simine (2013, 2) has noted. In this regard, the heritagization of personal memories in the case on Ingrians – The Forgotten Finns can be interpreted as an institutionalization and public validation of Ingrian Finns’ experiences, but also as an absorption of these experiences and histories into a (more or less) homogenized notion of the Finnish nation. Although not necessarily problematic in this case – after all, one of the explicit aims of Ingrians exhibition was to promote collective awareness of Ingrians’ status as part of the Finnish people in Finland – it is crucial to note how personal memories and minority histories can be easily and perhaps unintentionally co-opted by national institutions under their homogenizing master narratives instead of being represented as valuable in themselves. More importantly, this poses a critical question regarding national heritage institutions’ ability to diversify let alone deconstruct national master narratives in the first place. After all, these same narratives form the premises upon which national museums as institutions are built.

A virtual tour (in Finnish) of: The Ingrian – The Forgotten Finns

This blog text presents some of the findings of a research article published in Ethnologia Europaea: Savolainen, Ulla & Potinkara, Nika 2021: Memory, Heritage, and Tradition in the Museum Exhibition Ingrians – The Forgotten Finns. Ethnologia Europaea 51(2). DOI: https://doi.org/10.16995/ee.3060

Ulla Savolainen works as a senior researcher at the University of Helsinki, Folklore Studies. She is a folklorist specializing in memory studies, oral history, and narrative. Her research concerns the politics and poetics of remembrance related to transnationality, migration, and belonging. Currently, she leads a research project entitled Transnational Memory Cultures of Ingrian Finns.

Literature

Arnold-de Simine, Silke 2013: Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137352644

Jõesalu, Kirsti & Ene Kõresaar (forthcoming 2022): Mitigating the Difficult Past? On the Politics of Renaming the Estonian Museum of Occupations. In: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, Sofia Laine, Päivi Salmesvuori, Ulla Savolainen & Riikka Taavetti (eds.), Friction, Fragmentation, and Diversity: Localized Politics of European Memories. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 27–53.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara 1998: Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Macdonald, Sharon 2003: Museums, National, Postnational and Transcultural Identities. Museum & Society 1(1): 1–16.

Vergo, Peter (ed.) 1989: The New Museology. London: Reaction Books.

Witcomb, Andrea 2003: Re-Imagining the Museum: Beyond the Mausoleum. London: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203361023

Una Europa PhD Workshop “Dissonant Heritage: Concepts, Critiques, Cases”

by Teresa Nicolosi (Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna)

The second Una Europa PhD Workshop “Dissonant Heritage: Concepts, Critiques, Cases” was held on 16-20 November 2021 simultaneously at the Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna and at the Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie. The Workshop was open to more than twenty PhD students from the eight Una Europa universities, that have been able to count on the 1Europe budget support for mobility. In fact, the participants were physically split in two groups between Bologna and Krakow, communicating and interacting with each other during several dedicated moments through online platforms.

They were called to reflect on the theme of dissonant heritage, i.e., that kind of difficult or sensitive heritage that is rooted in controversial contexts or in historical dark periods such as colonialism or totalitarianism eras. In particular, works were inspired by four main cross-cutting themes: unveiling the dissonance of the scientific museum collections, designing the social sustainability of dissonant heritage, arts and dissonance – historical and legal perspectives, arts and dissonance – how arts can help overcoming dissonance.

In order to discuss these topics, since the very beginning of the activities that included a Pre-Workshop online phase, it was really noteworthy the multidisciplinary value of the students’ background. In fact, they were anthropologists, archaeologists, sociologists, historians, musicians, experts in literature and history of arts, and their different formation and geographical origin were invaluable points of strength during the whole duration of the Workshop.

The program was articulated into five days of seminars, teamwork and two fieldworks in each of the two locations: the Nowa Huta district and the Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, the Anthropological Museum of the University of Bologna and the Forlì rationalist district in Italy. The outcomes of the activities will consist in an online final conference and in an e-book including worthy students’ essays about their experience and some introductory articles in order to illustrate the principles and most significant results of the Workshop.

Thanks to its cutting-edge format involving several students from different research fields and countries that met both physically and remotely, the Workshop “Dissonant Heritage: Concepts, Critiques, Cases” was a truly immersive experience. It was a formative opportunity that allowed to deepen participants’ knowledge about dissonant heritage, but also to discuss new ideas and perspectives about cultural heritage in general. Moreover, it was a priceless occasion to discover new places and habits, meeting new young and senior researchers, professors, as well as other people involved to varying degrees in the study, safeguarding and promotion of cultural heritage.

In addition, the two locations organization was particularly challenging, but it was completely worth it in terms of cultural, social and personal knowledge and growth both for organizers and participants. These relevant results have been achieved thanks to the collaboration of several different professionals from different cities and institutions, following the model and concept of the Una Europa alliance, aimed at creating a truly European inter-university ecosystem.

Teresa Nicolosi is a post-doctoral researcher at the Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna

two women looking at posters at an exhibition

Transmitting, safeguarding, and promoting ICH in protracted displacement contexts

by Laura Jeffery (University of Edinburgh)

Half a century ago, between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the UK Government depopulated the entire Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean to make way for a major US military base on the Chagos island of Diego Garcia. Forced onto crowded ships bound for Mauritius and Seychelles, Chagos islanders could take only very few belongings with them. Despite a series of legal battles for the right of return, the UK Government continues to bar Chagossians from resettling Chagos, and return visits have been minimal. As such the community has lost – or has lost access to – material heritage objects, cultural sites, places, and monuments. Chagossians are concerned that knowledge and practices linked to life on Chagos will be lost as the remaining Chagos-born islanders pass away.

For the past two decades I have conducted ethnographic research with the Chagossian communities in Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK. In such contexts of forced displacement, protracted dislocation, and geographical dispersal, how do chronically marginalised and fractured communities sustain and transmit memories of the homeland, cultural practices, collective identification, and visions of the future? My work explored the significance of cultural forms – particularly coconut-based cuisine, Kreol language, and syncretic sega tambour music – for the community’s struggle for their right of return to Chagos.[i] I highlighted the contradictions inherent in the compulsion to demonstrate cultural continuity and cultural loss simultaneously:[ii]

  • On the one hand, to show that they remain a distinctive group, they emphasise the endurance and distinctiveness of their culture vis-à-vis their Mauritian or Seychellois counterparts.
  • Yet, on the other hand, to show that they are victims worthy of recompense, they emphasise the cultural losses and fragmentation that they have suffered.

Clearly the actual and potential loss of cultural heritage in this instance is therefore not simply due to change and obsolescence, but rather it is the direct result of historical injustices and ongoing marginalisation. Following my extended ethnographic engagement with the Chagossian community, I was well positioned to lead a community engagement and impact project aiming to address the consequences of this exploitation and injustice by supporting displaced Chagossians to valorise, share, and preserve their intangible cultural heritage.

  1. At intergenerational heritage transmission workshops in 2017, Chagossian elders shared with the younger generations their knowledge of medicinal plants, coconut preparation, coconut handicrafts, coconut-based cuisine, musical instruments, and song and dance.[iii]
  • Photographs, instructive films, and artefacts generated at these workshops have been displayed in exhibitions installed six times in Mauritius and Reunion Island and in the UK.
  • In 2018 we produced a new Chagos Tambour Group music album, which was subsequently made available on the Air Mauritius inflight entertainment system.
  • Our open access digital archive chagos.online displays photographs, instructive films, downloadable recipes, and the Chagos Tambour Group album.

Recent trends in the heritage sector towards supporting ICH processes are particularly relevant for displaced and migrant groups who have experienced dramatic social and cultural change and the loss of material cultural heritage. Our project focused on the transmission of ICH (rather than on outputs). This enabled space for and recognition of differences in community members’ understandings of and approaches to ICH. It became apparent that what was important for displaced Chagossians was not the ‘authenticity’ of cultural objects, but rather their utility as tools for transmitting valued ICH. Thus they considered their heritage to be neither static nor homogeneous. This gives weight to the argument that practices within the heritage sector should not seek to concretise heritage, particularly when the people whose living heritage is at stake are not themselves troubled by variation over time and place.

In any case, efforts to inscribe heritage do not necessarily prevent changes in practices, not least because there are limits to the extent to which people use a list, an inventory, or a recording as a guide to cultural practice. In other words, we found that inscription of a ‘canonical template’ on a remote UNESCO List may well be ‘inherently paradoxical’, but the process need not necessarily ‘freeze cultural change’ into a ‘static element’ since it might not unduly influence how people actually engage with ‘living practices’.[iv]

Heritage is a resource that can be used by marginalised groups to define themselves and seek validation. This is especially true for displaced people who have been dispossessed of their material heritage, and for whom ICH is perhaps even more important. Formal efforts to safeguard and inscribe ICH offer the possibility of political, social, and financial gains such as increased legitimacy, strengthened collective identification, and funding to enable communities to continue to practice their valued cultural activities. However, safeguarding processes can also pose risks such as loss of control over community knowledge and a compounded sense of disempowerment.

Laura Jeffery is professor of Anthropology of Migration at the University of Edinburgh.

Image by Laura Jeffery


[i] Jeffery, L. 2007. How a plantation became paradise: changing representations of the homeland among displaced Chagos islanders. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13, 4: 951-968.

[ii] Jeffery, L. 2011. Chagos islanders in Mauritius and the UK: Forced displacement and onward migration. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

[iii] Jeffery, L. & R. Rotter. 2016. Sustenance, nourishment, and cultivation: plants as living cultural heritage for dispersed Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22, 2: 296-313.

[iv] Jeffery, L. & R. Rotter 2018. Safeguarding sega: transmission, inscription, and appropriation of Chagossian intangible cultural heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies 25, 10: 1020-1033.

Heritage on the Move

”Heritage on the move” was born out of the UNA Europa transnational research team “Heritage, Global Migration and Mobility”. It brings together research and researchers from all across Europe to write, debate and cooperate on issues of mobility, movement, migration in heritage in a global context. Most of all, it aims to be an open space for thinking about what critical heritage can contribute to scholarly and societal discussions on mobility and migration. Employing a grassroots approach, it invites members of the research team to engage in a lively discussion on what critical heritage is, how heritage can be understood, protected and experienced, and how their ongoing research can inform international and global conversations about mobile and migrant heritages.