2023 marks the twentieth anniversary of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Heritage. It established culture as a concept to be safeguarded. That event came three decades after the World Heritage Convention. Through that, UNESCO had set up its World Heritage List of protected sites and buildings. The intervening years have seen multiple shifts in how we define heritage – as both material objects and social traditions. Today more than ever before, the distinction is blurred. The streets on which we live, and the monuments we protect are all connected to the traditions and social groupings we celebrate and preserve – whether physically, socially or, increasingly, digitally.
What we mean by heritage today then, is an open and diverse question. Our buildings and environments, our cities and neighborhoods, our memorials and our artworks, our cultures and communities are all component parts of what we understand as ‘preservable’ history. The dynamics at play are, however, complex. Conserving architectural heritage can conflict with development models. Community traditions are threatened by globalization. Monuments are often focal points for cultural contestation. Archaeological sites are valued in themselves and simultaneously erased by both the forces of conflict and ‘progress’. Digital models and modes of experience both attract a new audience and can alienate an older one.
However, the past and the present also overlap and mutually support. Placemaking sees built and cultural heritage as key to urban practice. Contextualization is central to planning laws. Museums are sites for communities and display. Digital modelling can be the only way to fully experience an ancient object or archeological site. Galleries present historical art while debating meanings in contemporary terms.
Reflecting this scenario, this conference seeks papers on heritage from various standpoints: art and architecture historians concerned with preservation; architects and urban planners engaged with placemaking; cultural theorists and social historians documenting objects, places, people and events; artists working with technologies, communities and place. It welcomes case studies that are specific and place-based. It embraces theoretical frameworks that function globally. It is interested in variegated methods of research and analysis.
Although the event is international in its reach, it is also interested in the specifics of the Czech Republic. It stems from the Prague-based project Then, Now and Always and uses its themes of museums and communities as a key strand. Other strands and themes are listed below and aim to bring in contributions from multiple fields.