World Heritage, cultural heritage and archaeology: a critical perspective

PhD Course, Norwegian Centre in Paris May 28 – June 1 2018.

Dialogues with the Past. The Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology.

Photo Credit:

In this course we will look closely at the concept of World Heritage and what relation it has with cultural heritage in general and the discipline of archaeology.

In the Unesco list very different world heritage sites are assembled under the protection of the international community. Here natural sites like the rainforest of Sumatra or the African national parks meet historical sites like the Silk Road in China or the Acropolis in Athens or architectural wonders like the palace of Versailles and the Canterbury Cathedral or stunning pre-historic sites like the rock art of Alta or the Neolithic site of Catalhöyük in Turkey. When we address world heritage we also become aware that the Unesco concept has wide ramifications and that it also influences the way we think of heritage and sites that are not on the list.

We therefore wish PhD students in archeology to consider what the conceptual and analytical status is of the materials they produce – by moving the focus from local circumstances to the global perspectives inherent in the Unesco outlook on heritage sites. In doing so we shall present the principles of World Heritage Sites as a starting point for critical reflection and comparison with local cases.

The idea of the course is to take perspectives from critical heritage studies – often dealing with politically and religiously potent sites – and let that inspire our everyday archeological work. The focus is a reflective perspective on what place our everyday archaeological practices play in the larger globalized world. We highlight current debates and conflicts by focusing on current issues such as  nationalism or inter-nationalism, political ideology and policy, warfare, tourism, ownership and commodification; tangible and intangible heritage; digitalization, politics of archives and politics of objectification, memory and memorialization. By exploring the ways in which cultural heritage materials are collected, ordered and governed, we aim to explore the critical tool kit available to scholars.

For instance, how can heritage be understood not simply as a ‘thing’ but a cultural, social and political process? What alternative definitions exist beyond Unesco dominant frameworks that emphasise preservationist approaches? The critique of the Unesco outlook has often concerned that it promotes heritage sites and memorials for the purpose of creating ‘official’ pasts and futures. This implies how the technologies of heritage that we engage create memory of some things and places, but exclusion and forgetting of others. Are there problems inherent in all heritage practices? How does the Unesco framework reflect current practices within cultural heritage? Which problems does it raise and which positive effects does it have?

Photo Credit: Mona Knudsen,
Photo Credit: Mona Knudsen,

We also ask: How do digital technologies intersect with heritage, museums and material culture? We will discuss the impacts of digital technologies on heritage experience, looking at sites, museums, visitors and scholars. A key aspect for discussion is how new technologies promise a new kind of knowing that embraces both an analytical understanding of collections through online learning and the sharing of knowledge that augments real life engagement with cultural heritage objects. As the digital era becomes part of heritage experience, we ask what will be the future of heritage.  

Thereby we wish to highlight how the various technologies of heritage that we choose to engage in our work are tied up with larger structures of funding, university institutional regimes, as well as institutional and bureaucratic regimes of storage, digitalization, exhibitions and publications, media coverage and governmental policies.  

By the end of the course students should be capable of thinking beyond mainstream heritage concepts, categories and texts and engage with alternative intellectual and methodological frameworks oriented towards the rethinking and reconstruction of heritage values, practices and ethics.


Examples of issues to be considered during the course (illustrated by case studies):

  • How does memory and forgetting attach itself to cultural heritage?
  • How is cultural heritage a technology for social collectivities, like for instance nation-building?
  • Are there tensions between local collective memories and larger, globalizing or state-building acts of memorialism?
  • How are local assumptions, values, hierarchies and inequalities encoded within digital heritage Projects?
  • In what ways can cultural heritage be a conceptual counterweight to capital, commodities and moveable property?


Course work

The reading list will have basic texts of World Culture Heritage as well as texts from cultural heritage research.The course will consist of both seminars and lectures. Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for pre-circulation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme. In the course seminars, each paper will be allotted ca. 45 minutes, beginning with the student presenting a 15-minute summary of its contents. This is followed with a 10 min commentary from one of the other PhD students (selected in advance), after which she or he will chair an open discussion    on the paper for approximately 20 minutes.

During the course we will also pay a visit to the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris:




Lynn Meskell,         Graeme Were,      Nils Arnfinset


(Photo credit:,,,)

Professor Lynn Meskell, Stanford University – will discuss the role of the UNESCO for the politics of cultural heritage.

Professor Graeme Were, University of Bristol – will discuss critical heritage studies and digital technologies.

Professor Nils Anfinset, University of Bergen  - will cover topics to do with heritage in conflict and in zones of war.



1 month or 7 ECTS


Location, Travel and Costs

The Graduate School will finance and arrange travel and accommodation, as well as supply a daily allowance during the seminar for all participating PhD students who are part of the Dialogues With the Past network. Two PhD students will share a room.



The Graduate school invites all registered PhD students to apply for participation. Please follow this link to apply for the course (in English only). From these applications, c. 15 PhD students will be admitted to the course.

For more information please contact:


Important dates

Application for participation: until February 16, 2018. Confirmation on your participation will be sent out shortly after this date together with a reading list.

Submission of working papers (10 pages, Times New Roman 12, Spacing 1,5): April 27, 2018.

Appointment of discussants: May 4, 2018.


Published Oct. 26, 2017 10:55 AM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 12:23 PM