Heritage Futures

Photo: Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed vault

Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage

Heritage Futures is an interdisciplinary research programme which aims to develop a broad, international and cross-sectoral comparative framework for understanding 'heritage' in its most expansive sense.

It begins from the premise that heritage is fundamentally concerned with assembling futures. The collaborative, multi-sited research programme will thus compare a range of conventional and unconventional future-making practices from a number of different heritage and heritage-like fields. The research programme aims to facilitate co-creation and sharing of practical knowledge across these various domains of practice which are rarely considered collectively to contribute to the development of innovative and sustainable approaches to heritage conservation.

Heritage Futures (logo)

This constitutes one of the largest critical comparative studies of heritage and heritage-like practices to have ever been undertaken.Activities will take place across four themes, each of which draws together several heritage domains that share common objectives or common practices, but which have not generally been considered in comparative perspective, to examine the ways in which each domain draws on the past to resource the future in the face of a present threat.

The collection of domains to be considered by the programme are organised under four broad themes: uncertainty, transformation, profusion and diversity.

  • Preparing for uncertain futures -  to investigate the selection of sites for future disposal of nuclear waste, the transmission of messages from earth into outer space and practices of world heritage designation and management
  • Managing nature/culture borderlands - to explore synergies between landscape rewilding initiatives and the management of ruination in built heritage
  • Curating profusion - to examine discarding and keeping for posterity in households and small-to medium- sized museums
  • Conserving diversity - to compare ways of valuing and managing biological and cultural diversity in indigenous landscape management, seed banks, herbaria and frozen zoos

Within these themes, researchers will undertake fieldwork to understand the practices and processes (categorising, curating, conserving, communicating) which are undertaken within each domain, and to suggest ways in which they might be creatively redeployed in others. Research methods will principally draw on forms of visual and material ethnography, but also incorporate documentary research, creative artistic practice, film making, trans-sectoral knowledge exchange events and exhibitionary experiments.

In addition to these theme-specific activities, we will engage in a number of cross-cutting, programme-wide activities which are concerned with co-creating new knowledge through knowledge exchange events, academic symposia and exhibitions.

The project will work with 18 non-academic partner organisations drawn from across various conventional and unconventional heritage domains. They will be guided in their work by an esteemed advisory board drawn from senior representatives of a number of the partner organisations, representing a range of different fields of practice, to ensure the research has wide impact amongst practitioners and policy makers.

Related outputs

This research project commenced in April 2015. Details of related outputs will be made available here in due course.



  • The research is funded by a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past’ theme Large Grant (AH/M004376/1).This grant contributes approximately £1.6million to an overall project cost of approximately £2.4million, including in-kind and actual partner contributions of over £220,000 and three additional PhD studentships, funded separately by Exeter, York and UCL respectively.

Research Programme personnel:

Advisory Board members:

  • Dr Gustavo Araoz (President, ICOMOS International)
  • Dr Tim Badman (Director, World Heritage Programme, IUCN)
  • Professor Francesco Bandarin (Università Iuav di Venezia; formerly Assistant Director General-Culture, UNESCO)
  • Dr Loyd Grossman (Chairman, The Heritage Alliance, UK)
  • Dr Saida Laârouchi Engström (Vice President for Strategy and Programmes, SKB, Sweden)
  • John Orna-Ornstein (Director of Museums, Arts Council England)
  • Dr Ingrid Samuel (Head of Historic Properties, National Trust UK)

Partner Organisations:


Further information:

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