1HeritageCAVE: HOW VIRTUAL HERITAGE TECHNOLOGY GIVES NEW LIFELINE TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT FOR HERITAGE COMMUNITIES AND ECONOMY IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH.
Iconic heritage is globally threatened by conflict, instability, climate change, rampant commercialisation, overexploitation by tourism, significant disinvestment, and lack of responsible planning, maintenance and preservation strategies. In this context, digital tools and innovative technologies can play a central role to either save ancient heritage sites, record existing at-risk heritage collections and artefacts, or help recover disappearing and fragmented heritage practices. At the Centre for Architecture Urbanism and Global Heritage (CAUGH) at Nottingham Trent University, we worked with heritage authorities, local communities and stakeholders in India and the MENA region to develop customised solutions using innovative virtual technology. Our ‘HeritageCAVE’ framework consists in a co-production and community-led preservation tool, which utilises novel virtual heritage technologies on three levels: recording archaeological sites, tracing historic lives and archives, and recording community’s history and stories. From determining geological and mapping physical defects in Ancient Hawara Pyramid (Egypt), recording historic layers of Nottingham Castle and the Lace Market in Nottingham (UK), to digitising communities’ heritage in old Mosul and Al-Rasheed Street in Baghdad (Iraq), or the historic villages in Gujarat (India), virtual heritage technology was able to reach in-depth understanding of heritage contexts, complexity, interdependences between assets and people. Encompassing technical procedures, communities engagement, and policy advocacy aspects, the project helped build capacity and create opportunities for largely marginalised communities in need of sustainable livelihoods and alternative economy.
Prof Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, Chair in Architecture and Director of Centre for Architecture, Urbanism and Global Heritage, Nottingham Trent University (UK).
2REANIMATING CULTURAL HERITAGE IN SIERRA LEONE
In 2009, when the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project began, Sierra Leone was still recovering from a decade-long civil war. Culture and heritage were low priorities for the national government, and Sierra Leone’s National Museum had suffered from years of neglect. In contrast, many museums in the UK had rich collections and displays of Sierra Leonean cultural heritage. The AHRC-funded Reanimating Cultural Heritage project, led by Paul Basu, sought to reconnect this diaspora of Sierra Leonean heritage collections, as well as the institutions that cared for them, with the National Museum in Freetown. At the heart of the project was a programme of knowledge exchange and capacity building, enabling the National Museum to digitize its collection, overhaul its displays and develop new community and education programmes. Short video documentaries were produced with aspiring young filmmakers, bringing to life what were perceived as dead and dusty objects in the museum. The project sought to explore how breathing new life into heritage collections could revivify institutions such as the National Museum, and how these cultural institutions could, in turn, contribute to the wider post-conflict reanimation of Sierra Leone. Mindful of inequalities in digital access, the project worked both online and offline with communities throughout Sierra Leone and its diaspora. The Sierra Leone Heritage online resource was subsequently adopted as the official website of the National Museum. Through the School Heritage Club network the project helped to establish, many more young people are taking an active interest in their cultural inheritance.
Ms Isatu Smith, Managing Director, West Africa Heritage Consultants (Sierra Leone); Prof Paul Basu, Professor of Anthropology, SOAS University of London (UK)
3(AB)USING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES TO INNOVATE IN SUSTAINABLE HERITAGE RESEARCH, POLICY AND PRACTICE.
Digital technologies have been used in many innovative ways in heritage work, from recording high resolution images of heritage, to modelling invisible structures, and making heritage accessible to new audiences. However, such activities give rise to many challenges: who benefits most from their use, how do we mitigate their harms, and are these technologies as sustainable as they are usually considered to be? Invariably it is the companies designing the technologies, academics building their careers, rich tourists wanting a tech-mediated augmented reality experience, and tourist agencies and companies mining the data who benefit most, rather than the world’s poorest and most marginalised people and communities who have long lived alongside much rich heritage. The research actions of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are largely focused on understanding and changing policy on how best such potential harms can be mitigated, as we seek to serve the interests of those who are usually ignored. In particular our Digital-Environment System Coalition (DESC) launched in 2021 brings together scientists, companies and civil society organisations to think afresh about how more holistic approaches can be introduced to counter the often anti-sustainable practices of the digital tech sector that harm our global heritage.
Prof Tim Unwin, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Royal Holloway, University of London (UK).