Upcoming conference: Heritage Across Borders (ACHS in China, September 2018)

In September the Association of Critical Heritage Studies will hold its 4th Biennial Conference at Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China. Just like the Stockholm symposium I participated in last September, it centers around the very broad theme of heritage and ‘borders’ (buzzword of the year?) (ACHS 2018).

I will give two papers in two different sessions. The first one, in Luke Jame’s session Heritage as competitive internationalism (No. 109), is called “Carving Europe out of the World” and deals with the sometimes antagonistic and sometimes brotherly relationship between the EU and UNESCO in relation to EU’s heritage initiatives (especially the EHL). The second, in Tuuli Lähdesmäki’s session A European Heritage in the Making: External Borders and Internal Boundaries on the Move (No. 47), is called “EU heritage actions and the re-bordering of Europe”. It looks at the EU’s parallel projects of de-bordering Europe (attempts to create a European identity and common cultural space) and re-bordering Europe (reinforcing EU’s external border regime with buffer zones eastward and naval surveillance), all in light of their feel-good cultural heritage initiatives.

Here are the full abstracts:

Carving Europe out of the World: EU heritage actions and the long shadow of UNESCO

This paper examines European Union efforts to carve out a past for EUrope in a world where the values of heritage, from national to universal, already rely on a Western appraisal of the past. It starts from the historic relationship between UNESCO’s and EU’s engagements in tangible heritage, alternating between symbiosis and sibling rivalry since the 1970s, and ends with EU’s new European Heritage Label (2011), a listing exercise intended to strengthen the sense of European belonging among EU citizens. Since the first European Community resolutions on cultural heritage, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (along with the work of Council of Europe) has been used to legitimise EU’s own engagement in heritage. At the same time, due to its emphasis on universal value, UNESCO has sometimes been considered a rival, charged with overshadowing the ‘European dimension’ of sites. In parliamentary debates, actors have warned that EU and UNESCO heritage actions might come to overlap. While some have settled on “the more the merrier”, others have suggested that EU back away and not take credit for something that was not their idea nor their domain to start with. This ambivalence has led to uncertain articulations of why heritage should be a European matter of concern. Fast forward to the present and the European Heritage Label (EHL), this tension is still evident. Although inspired by the World Heritage List (WHL), its existence has been justified by othering the very same. Ahead of its adoption, a key task was to analyse and explain how the two schemes differed, and today, the first thing you read when visiting the EHL website is: ‘What makes the European Heritage Label unique and how is it different from the UNESCO World Heritage List?’ It is the tension between the European and the universal that arises through EU’s simultaneous reliance upon and othering of the world heritage regime, as well as how this tension resonates at the selected EHL sites, that is the subject of this paper.

EU heritage actions and the re-bordering of Europe

The delineation of borders, both conceptual and barb wired, is always a collaborative project. By participating in European Union funding actions seeking to foster a European identity, heritage professionals have contributed to EUropean border making since the 1970s. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork, EU political documents and the outcomes of heritage projects co-funded by the EU culture programmes, this paper argues that this mutually beneficial relationship has produced a dual approach to European belonging. One side places authority in the past, drawing borders in time and space, by seeking a European commonality in heritage sites or historical periods. The other places authority in the present, de-emphasising the ‘European’ part and recognizing that heritage, just like borders, is interchangeable. It is something that can travel with you. In a political landscape marked by contentious cultural and political fray, the question of which side prevails is of great importance. As the EU celebrates heritage for its ability to break borders within, designating culture as ‘the new soul of Europe’, the externalisation of its immigration policies has created buffer zones that reaffirm colonial orders. This re-bordering of Europe is augmented by far-right groups that chant ‘Europe for Europeans’ and draw on European heritage as an extension of ethno-nationalist belonging in opposition to non-western immigration. In both frameworks ‘European heritage’ becomes a strategy of self-representation, and in both settings the actions of the heritage domain come into play.

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