During the first week of the Australian summer, the Australian National University hosted the Second Association of Critical Heritage Studies Conference (ACHS), in Canberra. I was there. The conference continued the good work after the success of the First ACHS Conference held in Gothenburg in 2012. Professor Laurajane Smith and her team in sunny Canberra delivered a very well organised conference, which was appreciated by its participants from all over the world. Not surprisingly, however, a large contingent of researchers from Australia and neighbouring Asian countries were present at the conference.
When reading the abstracts, it became clear that heritage studies are a vast field of knowledge. Hot topics at the conference included: heritage related to diplomacy, multiculturalism, movements, emotional affect, conflicts, and ethics, just to mention a few. Denis Byrne from University of Western Sydney, Australia, gave an interesting key note address the first day. He spoke about present-day memory practices in touristic Bali, Indonesia, by reflecting on the absence of memory in the idyllic landscape, relating to the mass political killings, which occurred on the island in 1965. Zongjie Wu from Zhejiang University, China, followed up with an exciting key note on Confucian meanings of cultural heritage, and Margaret Wetherell from University of Auckland, New Zealand, introduced through her key note some of the theoretical aspects relating to emotional ‘affect’ in social research. The mix of keynotes appears to be slightly more culturally and geographically diverse than in 2012. Altogether, the key note speakers provided a broad framework for the issues that are now central to the field of heritage studies. Their talks set the tone for what was a highly enriching environment for good discussions that characterised the atmosphere at the conference overall.
A great variety of sessions offered a wide range of themes and case studies from every continent. Many of the sessions gave regional or nation-wide scope to heritage including, critical heritage challenges in Africa, North America, South East Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. These geographically defined sessions indicate how large and many-layered the network of ACHS has become after just two years in action.
Out of the more than 260 presentations given in Canberra, I found the wide range of presentations on Asian heritage, and on the relationships between Australian and Asian heritage research (about which I didn’t know so much before arriving here) the most interesting. These sessions offered new insights into Asian policies and theories of heritage, Asian national heritage and heritage cultures across national borders and, more importantly, future challenges in for instance China which, as we all know, is a country going through rapid changes.
The session I participated in, called “Exploring ‘Value’ in Heritage Value,” fitted the framework of the H@V network very well. It covered a wide range of topics including: how scale affects definitions of heritage value (as seen through the Angkor World Heritage Site in Cambodia), theorisation on apocalyptic value in heritage tourism (grounded on the issues of loss and fragility of culture), heritage as public value and welfare, as well as, heritage value as performance in Canadian fiddle dance practices. The session concluded appropriately with fiddle music performed by the last presenter, Sarah Quick, which added extra emphasis to the session as a whole: heritage values are as fluent and vibrant as fiddle music; they will never be static; and the content of ‘value’ becomes visible by the performance, action, movement, or social practice that is taking place. In other words: To study ‘value’ is to study heritage in the making.
Attending a conference on this scale has been a unique opportunity to get to know what’s going on in heritage studies worldwide. Heritage researchers alike can look forward to the third ACHS conference in 2016 in Montreal, Canada, and the fourth ACHS conference which will be held in China in 2018.
Dr. Torgrim Sneve Guttormsen (Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research)