UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Sustainable Heritage Bidecennial Conference: Strategic Research Questions

24 March 2021–25 March 2021, 10:00 am–5:00 pm

A broken spire of an ancient ruined temple in Hampi, Karnataka, India.

To mark 20 years of Sustainable Heritage at UCL, we will be holding a Bidecennial Conference in March 2021.

Event Information

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UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


takes place

The Sustainable Heritage Bidecennial Conference will take place over two days from 24 - 25 March 2021.

Organised in a hybrid format consisting of online talks, workshops and roundtable discussions, the conference will appeal to researchers and practitioners, industry and policy professionals.

The conference is organised under the auspices of the National Heritage Science Forum, the European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science (E-RIHS) and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM).

Conference scope

Research into cultural heritage inhabits the space between humanities and science. It is critical, collaborative and interdisciplinary. This makes it challenging on many levels, continually questioning experiments, concepts and theories; applying qualitative and quantitative methods of research; ideally moving fluidly between research, policy and impact and often doing so disruptively; requiring discipline-rooted researchers with an immense breadth of expertise.

Our bidecennial conference will consider where the field might go next within the context of what appears to be a very open research landscape. The outcomes will contribute to the wider debate that is defining the strategic challenges of heritage research.

The programme will consist of invited, visionary contributions exploring questions of theory, methodology, impact, sustainability, and the presentations are expected to focus on the future and to reflect on the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of heritage research.

Conference themes

Future heritage - led by Professor Richard Sandford

As novel materials and technologies emerge, as new patterns of consumption and production develop, and as what is valued changes within society, the nature of heritage will evolve, and in doing so, the capacity of heritage to support future societies in their response to planetary challenges will change as well. What new forms of heritage might be anticipated? What new challenges might they present for heritage science and management? What resources can heritage offer that support people to accept and live through change? How might heritage contribute to, critique, and enrich the development of positive future imaginaries? What different roles might heritage play in future society?

Heritage science - led by Dr Josep Grau

When the scientific method is used to study heritage, we are doing heritage science. However, what makes heritage science different from other branches of science? The complexity of cultural heritage as  a focus of study usually pushes existing technologies beyond their limits, driving new scientific developments. We invite submissions that show how knowledge and techniques from other disciplines are transformed when they are used in heritage science. Data-driven approaches, for example, often need to be improved to deal with unstructured and complex historic data. Engineering solutions need to operate within the constraints of historic sites, which may be remote, protected, busy, fragile… Physical sciences need the social sciences, because understanding the human relationships with heritage is essential to understand deterioration or change. When does science become “heritage science”? This theme could usefully build on the Strategic Framework for Heritage Science for the UK, 2018-2023.

Heritage risk and resilience - led by Professor Kalliopi Fouseki

Heritage is at risk of major socio-economic, cultural, political and environmental challenges. As much as heritage is at risk of major challenges many of which are unpredicted as the Covid-19 pandemic evidently showed, heritage can also be a significant catalyst for socio-economic, cultural and environmental resilience. Heritage can contribute actively to many of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the United Nations in 2016. To this end, there is a series of critical questions that emerge and which the conference aims to explore. On a conceptual level, should we rethink concepts linked to ‘risk’, ‘resilience’ and ‘uncertainty’? How can recent and current challenges contribute to the reconceptualization of ‘risk’ and ‘resilience’ in the context of heritage? What is missing from current approaches to heritage and risk? What are the implications in practice of current approaches to risk and resilience in heritage contexts?

Modern and contemporary heritage - led by Associate Professor Katherine Curran

Increasingly, heritage professionals are being challenged by modern and contemporary heritage such as plastic museum artefacts, Brutalist architecture and the technologies, philosophies and movements that have shaped the modern world. The conservation of this heritage is crucial in order to understand its impact on modern society, for example its environmental impact. How do we value the tangible and intangible aspects of modern and contemporary heritage? How can we better understand the properties of modern and contemporary heritage materials, including their composition, fabrication and assembly methods, use and decay mechanisms? What evidence-based conservation strategies do we need for the storage and display of modern museum objects and repair, maintenance and replacement of components of modern buildings? Can traditional ethical frameworks be applied to the conservation of such materials, or do they need to be adapted? What about modern and contemporary heritage that has a more complex relationship with materials such as time-based media?

Conference publications

A Conference Booklet will be available before the event and will contain summaries of the invited talks.
Presenters shall submit a chapter for the edited volume Strategic Research Directions for Heritage Research 2021 to be published open access. All submissions will be reviewed and edited.

Conference chair

Our bidecennial conference will be chaired by Prof Matija Strlic, Professor of Heritage Science.