In 2019, Protecting the Past will explore how heritage professionals and institutions can work together with individuals and communities in the protection, conservation, and recovery of cultural heritage to which they are socially or spatially connected, and in decision-making processes about this heritage. The conference will also seek the role and place of cultural heritage in society, as well as the way it is perceived and interpreted by local communities in the MENA region. Documentation has a pivotal place in shaping our understanding and appreciation of cultural heritage. However, in the age of digital documentation and in the face of rapidly changing technologies, the question is how local communities in the MENA region are benefiting from new technologies for documentation, interpretation, protection and conservation of their local heritage, and how these tools are responding to local needs.
Cultural heritage has been taken into consideration by several international and regional funding programmes, such as the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, for research, protection, and conservation, which has allowed MENA countries to undertake action to revive their national or local heritage. PtP 2019 examines how these programmes have been successful in exchanging knowledge and expertise among local heritage stakeholders in the region, and to what extent they have empowered the local community of professionals through state-of-the-art heritage management approaches and tools to achieve sustainable heritage protection. The conference would like to promote those successful heritage programmes whose impact has not been limited to technical assistance but which have also been able to increase trust and create a better understanding among communities across the region through heritage protection.
Understanding, valuing, protecting, conserving, and enjoying cultural heritage is a participatory process which needs the involvement of the public sector as well as private stakeholders, civil society, and youth. Partnerships in the cultural heritage sector can bridge the existing gaps between public entities and other heritage stakeholders, and offer opportunities to develop capacities, transfer knowledge, and benefit local communities.
This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the 1960 Agadir earthquake, one of the deadliest and most destructive earthquakes in the history of Morocco. The conference will take this opportunity to address the role of the local community in recovery and resilience of cultural heritage; a very pertinent theme considering the scale of heritage destruction by armed conflict and natural hazards, and the emerging need for recovery and reconstruction of impacted historic cities and heritage places.
A- Resilience and Recovery for Local Communities
The necessity of adopting people-centred approaches to cultural heritage preservation has recently been promoted by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). “A new generation of heritage practitioners must now be sensitized to the benefits of engaging with a range of audiences in decision-making at different levels” (ICCROM). Promoting this approach is more pertinent in the light of recognising the need for engaging people in the process of disaster mitigation, emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and increasing resilience. In post-disaster and post-conflict reconstruction contexts, the role of local populations is a key element for success for any international or national project. This theme will address the exigency of a paradigm shift in the cultural heritage sector towards the inclusion of people in decision-making about mitigation actions, emergency preparedness, response and recovery processes.
B- Knowledge exchange
Heritage resources provide an opportunity for learning, interaction and active engagement (ICOMOS 2017 Delhi Declaration on Heritage and Democracy). Knowledge exchange is a key process that can bring together research institutes, local heritage stakeholders, and wider groups and communities to exchange ideas and expertise, and thus make an impact on the economy, society, culture, and public policy regarding heritage resources.
Under this theme, the results of the ‘Endangered Archaeology Methodology’ training scheme run by the EAMENA project and funded by the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund and Arcadia Fund will be presented. Since 2016, the EAMENA project has trained over 170 heritage professionals in the MENA in remote sensing and condition assessment of endangered heritage sites.
During the Protecting the Past 2018 Conference in Sharjah, UAE, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) launched a grant scheme, through the sponsorship of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, to support documentation projects to be carried out by locals trained by the EAMENA project. The GHF-J.M. Kaplan Awardees will also present the results of their projects under this theme. One of the main objectives of GHF is to empower communities through heritage conservation and partnership and to ensure the preservation of cultural heritage in developing countries through community involvement.
C- Global to local
In a rapidly changing world, digital technologies are profoundly influencing and shaping our understanding of cultural heritage and its documentation and protection. They also open a way to new, distributed, ways of working, communicating, and investment in new products and services in the cultural heritage sector. These kinds of changes necessitate the recalibration of the relationship between institutions, cultural heritage practices, heritage professionals, as well as groups and individuals from the public and private sectors.
Although the application of new technologies to the different forms of cultural heritage demonstrates enormous benefits in terms of effectiveness, cost reduction, and visibility, the question is how local communities and the younger generation, in developing countries and especially in the MENA region, are benefiting from these quickly changing tools; how cultural content and documentation produced by new technologies are made available, and how access is sustainable.
This theme also explores the ways that international and local partners, as well as public and private sectors, can work together to facilitate the transmission of new approaches, skills, tools and technologies to young people and local communities for better understanding and protection of cultural heritage.