Welcome to the Association of Critical Heritage Studies
ACHS was established a number of years ago with the intention of bringing together those who work in the space of heritage studies, and are interested in advancing a critical analysis of the role heritage plays in contemporary life around the world today.
In recent years an international debate has gained momentum around the complex social and political issues surrounding both cultural and natural heritage, and the Association has made distinct and important contributions to this. Three successful international conferences, hosted by Gothenburg University, the Australian National University, and Université du Québec/Concordia University, created new networks and produced some important themes of dialogue and debate.
For a multitude of reasons, the use of heritage in identity politics, conflicts, economic development or in the recreation of pasts and imagined futures is now commonplace around the world. The big challenge of making sense of the complex issues that now encircle the places, pasts and traditions we inherit means it is an exciting time to be involved in this area, and a privilege to be leading the Association.
As we go forward, important questions surround the degree to which we should identify heritage as a field, a discipline, a profession, or as mode of post-disciplinary teaching and research. With its tradition of bringing attention to themes such as power, contestation, dissonance and so forth, heritage studies has found a strong and valuable identity in the academy. Considerable work still needs to be done however, to map out the conceptual and methodological terrains that will, together, give heritage studies long-term coherence and rigour. Reaching out to and engaging with other areas of critical enquiry is vital, and cognisant fields such as post-colonial studies, feminist theory, material culture studies, political ecology and others represent valuable points of engagement and co-learning.
Equally, the most critically productive forms of knowledge production come from a deep appreciation that issues are framed and perceived differently in different parts of the world, and are interpreted through different cultural and intellectual traditions. For me, critical heritage studies, much like many others areas of academic enquiry, also faces the challenge of accounting for its relationship to today’s regional and global transformations, in ways that validate its conceptual development and broader role.
The three ACHS conferences to date clearly indicate a widespread commitment to working across disciplinary boundaries, and a desire to construct mutually respectful dialogues with those working in neighbouring fields, sectors and different parts of the world. My sense is to keep fostering this, and that one of the best ways to critically engage with the unfolding complexities of heritage today is through collaborative learning, challenging boundaries, and forging inclusive dialogues.
I very much look forward to working with the membership over the coming months and years.