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Heritage as Applied Anthropology: Setting the Agenda for the 21st Century

AAA Presidential Session

Wednesday December 2, 2009
4:00-7:45pm, Liberty Ballroom A, 3rd Floor, Philadelphia Marriot

Organizers: Elizabeth Chilton and Neil Silberman (UMass Amherst)
Chairs: Elizabeth Chilton, Angela Labrador and Heidi Bauer-Clapp (UMass Amherst)

Position Paper and Themes for Participant Discussion

Click here to read the abstracts

Background: For the past seventy years, the field of Applied Anthropology, its practitioners, professional organizations, academic journals, and other publications have embraced the ideal of applying the insights of academic anthropology to real-world problems. Today, these anthropologists continue to formulate questions and develop methodologies to tackle the challenges of our contemporary world, which are marked by an accelerating pace of change, changing scales of space, increasing impermanence, and skepticism toward universal truths.

Among these challenges are the social issues and conflicts that arise connected to the cultural heritage of associated communities and their audiences (by heritage we mean the full range of intangible and tangible cultural objects and practices and their associated meanings). Applied anthropologists have engaged with heritage issues in many ways, and the following four heritage-related themes are prominent in the recent literature:
• Environmental justice and political ecology
• Sustainable and/or participatory development
• Diversity issues (including ethnic conflict)
• Impacts of tourism on local communities

Additionally, applied anthropologists have made the following suggestions to make anthropology relevant and practicable in the 21st century, all of which are particularly germane to the heritage field:
• Understanding the context and consequences of globalization (neoliberalism + capitalism)
• Working with new super‐governmental entities (e.g. development banks, NGOs, multinational corporations) and "micronational" entities (e.g. Indigenous nations, regional populations, ethnic minorities)
• Shifting working relationships with research subjects to research partners
• Adopting new theoretical models of social organization (e.g. nonlinear dynamic networks/systems) and redefining "community"
• Engaging anthropology with public policymaking

In summer 2009, a special issue of Practicing Anthropology was devoted to "The Archaeology and Ethnography of Cultural Heritage Management" specifically underlining the importance of the transdisciplinary field of heritage to the wider objectives of applied anthropology. In earlier years, a number of important studies were published in both Practicing Anthropology and Human Organization, dealing with community partnerships and local tourism, the construction of regional heritage networks, linking local environmental and heritage initiatives, and urban and regional heritage projects of various kinds (e.g., Clemmer 2004; Dugan and Caldwell 2005; Hackenberg 2003; LaLone 2005; Power and Paolisso 2007).

This AAA session attempts to build on this work within applied anthropology—while simultaneously acknowledging the far-reaching changes underway in the international heritage field—to offer the basis for 21st-century agenda building for public heritage. This agenda can serve as an internal bridge among anthropology's sub-fields and, no less important, it can serve as a unique transdisciplinary platform for practical and meaningful collaboration with other applied disciplines, such as economics, sociology, environmental psychology, public history, regional planning, education, and public policy.

Changing Heritage Paradigms: The field of public heritage, overlapping in some important respects with other applied activities such as Cultural Resource Management, Historic Preservation, Public Archaeology, and Public History, is becoming increasingly formalized as a field that encompasses the maintenance, facilitation, empowerment, and implementation of programs dealing with collective memory and both tangible remains from the past and the intangible traditions that give them contemporary significance.

Among international heritage organizations the criteria for assessing and appreciating "authenticity" have undergone a major shift in recent years, beginning with the Nara Conference and Document in 1994 ( and culminating with the adoption of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003 ( the movement has been from the primary significance of 'documented original material and/or fabric,' which was so central to the Venice Charter and other 20th-century heritage conventions and legislation, to ‘contemporary significance.’ Moreover, that significance is now increasingly acknowledged to be dynamic and ever evolving—posing a direct and practical challenge to the traditional ethos and methodologies of documentation, conservation, and preservation of essentialized heritage forms.

No less significant is the growing emphasis on values-based planning and the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders, as embodied in the 1999 Burra Charter ( and the 2005 Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (, and for the planning of heritage interpretation, the 2008 ICOMOS Charter on Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites ( The concerns expressed in all these heritage policy documents mesh substantially with the general issues of the changing social context for applied anthropology mentioned above, particularly the "shift in working relationships with research subjects to research partners" and the "adoption of new models for social organization," in this case the recognition of new types of "memory communities."

Looming Changes: Specific to the heritage field is a number of factors, both positive and negative, that are further undermining traditional approaches to heritage. As highlighted by newly-formed ICOMOS "Tolerance for Change" task force, these changes/challenges include:
• the official recognition as heritage of sites where there is little or no material fabric to preserve;
• the requirement to manage social processes that are deemed integral to the significance of the place;
• the characterization of heritage places as tools for poverty reduction by development agencies
• the growing acceptance of facsimile/virtual reconstructions as valid equivalents of originals long gone;
• the increasing development of heritage sites as entertainment or recreation venues, without consideration of their importance for serious historical reflection
• the pandemic of façadism that continues to gut thousands of individual buildings in historic cities in both Europe and the Americas;
• the aggressive and excessive rejuvenation and adaptive use of historic buildings through excessive replacement-in-kind and their use as "themed" shopping districts;
• the extreme anastylosis of archaeological ruins justified as interpretation to make archaeological sites more attractive and intellectually accessible;
• the burgeoning urbanization around cultural sites at the expense of traditional or vernacular neighborhoods;
• the race to capture tourists without proper preparation to receive them or the ever-expanding tourism infrastructure that impacts the community and its environment.
• the role of local communities in determination of heritage policy
• the rights of associated or diasporic communities in heritage stewardship in places where they are not present nor legal citizens.
• The identification of and role of the heritage steward(s) in all of the above-mentioned issues

These issues are suggested as central elements for consideration and discussion by each of the participants in the Heritage as Applied Anthropology session. Participants are asked to take the perspective of their particular professional experiences and fields. The goal is to formulate elements of an applied agenda that will address this suite of transformations in heritage practices and needs.

Session Structure:

The Session will be divided into two parts with a 15-minute break. The intention is to cover both aspects of Applied Anthropology—the academic and the applied. The first section (4:00-5:45pm) will be devoted to "New Intellectual Paradigms" and the second section (6:00-7:45pm) will be devoted to "New Administrative Frameworks." Participants will each speak for 15 minutes and each section will conclude with 30 minutes of discussion. The session schedule is as follows:

Section 1: New Intellectual Paradigms
Moderators: Elizabeth Chilton and Angela Labrador

4 PM Introduction: Neil Silberman (UMass Amherst)
4:15 PMDiscussant: Anna Agbe-Davies (UNC Chapel Hill)
4:30 PM Discussant: Margaret Conkey (UC Berkeley)
4:45 PM Discussant: Richard Kurin (Smithsonian Institution)
5 PM Discussant: Richard Leventhal (Penn Cultural Heritage Center)
5:15 PM Discussion
5:45 PM Break

Section 2: New Administrative Frameworks
Moderators: Angela Labrador and Heidi Bauer-Clapp

6 PM Discussant: Barbara Little (University of Maryland)
6:15 PM Discussant: Carol McDavid (University of Houston)
6:30 PM Discussant: Paul Shackel (University of Maryland)
6:45 PM Discussant: George Smith (Co-Chair SAA Heritage Values Interest Group)
7 PM Discussant: Laurier Turgeon (Université Laval)
7:15 PM Discussant: Lisa Ackerman (World Monuments Fund)
7:30 PM Discussion

Themes for Discussion:

We encourage participants to formulate a brief (15 minute) presentation of the most pressing items for reflection and agenda building in heritage in the coming decades. This statement should reflect some of the issues mentioned above, from the particular academic or professional perspective of the participant. The discussion period will be used for questions from the audience and/or discussion among the panel members, as time permits. The following are some suggested topics that the participants may want to address. These topics are merely suggestions and individual discussants may want to approach the issues from a different standpoint, bearing in mind the overall theme of the session and its two sections:

Section 1: New Intellectual Paradigms

Neil Silberman Introduction
Anna Agbe-DaviesSociety and Community, Memory and Power
Margaret Conkey The Changing Social Context of Archaeology
Richard Kurin The Role of Intangible Cultural Heritage in a Globalized World
Richard Leventhal International Heritage Cooperation and Development
New Administrative Frameworks

Section 2: New Administrative Frameworks
Moderators: Angela Labrador and Heidi Bauer-Clapp

Barbara Little The Changing Role of National Heritage Authoritiese
Carol McDavid Local Heritage Communities and Civic Life  
Paul Shackel University Research and Collective Memory
George Smith Heritage Professionals and the Question of Changing Values
Laurier Turgeon UNESCO Conventions and their Practical Challenges
Lisa Ackerman The Role of Foundations and NGOs

Center for Heritage and Society, 215 Machmer Hall, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA 01003 phone: 413.545.2221  fax: 413.545.9494