2018 European Year for Cultural Heritage: An Opportunity for Archaeology and Archaeological Heritage Public Policies

by Roderick B. Salisbury (roderick.salisbury@univie.ac.at) and Sylvie Květinová (administrator@e-a-a.org)

On an early Sunday morning in the Marriott Waldman Park at the 2018 SAA Annual Meetings in Washington, D.C., members of the European Association of Archaeologists and Society for American Archaeology gathered to discuss the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH 2018) in a Forum. Organized by the EAA in a joint initiative with the SAA, and sponsored by European Year of Cultural Heritage (European Union and Council of Europe) the Forum was designed to introduce the European Year of Cultural Heritage to our North American colleagues. The Forum was moderated by EAA President Felipe Criado-Boado, with Discussants Carsten Paludan-Müller, Kristian Kristiansen, and Roderick B. Salisbury.

The Forum began with an introduction by Felipe Criado-Boado, who presented the concept of the EYCH (https://europa.eu/cultural-heritage/), constituted by decision of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union of 17 May 2017. The overall objective of the Year is to encourage sharing and appreciation of Europe’s cultural heritage, to raise awareness of our common history and values, and to reinforce a sense of belonging in a common European space. The slogan for the year is: “Our heritage: where the past meets the future”. In order to achieve these goals, European institutions, key stakeholders (among which the EAA is proud to belong), national coordinators, and other entities coordinate thousands of events all around Europe focusing on cultural heritage.

Carsten Paludan-Müller provided a wider context on the concept of “Europe’s cultural heritage” as means of integration while preserving particularities. Among several examples, of particular interest from Paludan-Müller's talk was his analysis of the Versailles gardens layout and their ancestors and descendants. His point in this is that we can see how the pattern and layout of the gardens modelled after the classical Iranian Paradise garden, has moved between cultures, growing and adapting from one to the next but always sharing the common features that we perceive as "Versailles", but that in its general features is conceptually understood beyond Europe. Paludan-Müller developed the argument questioning the extent to which the “pillars” of European culture are truly European, and whether it at all matters – he argued that from its origins, Europe’s cultural heritage is cosmopolitan and integrative. Therefore, what constitutes the particular heritage of Europe and its variations within the continent has a lot more to do with how features and elements that are often shared far beyond Europe are selected, modified and reconfigured within each particular place. A cosmopolitan perspective will emphasize all the similarities, whereas a nationalist perspective will emphasize the differences. Together, these perspectives might get it right.

Roderick B. Salisbury added another viewpoint on cultural heritage in general, consisting in different perception of “us” vs. “them” depending for example on the migration history of a nation, as illustrated on the differences between how citizens of the US and Europeans perceive people of the past, and by extension cultural heritage. For example, are past human remains us, or them - the "other"? How this question is answered is directly related to how we treat and care for heritage and how we use it to construct our identity. Salisbury observed that for citizens of many nations, including the US and Hungary, “our” history begins when we arrived, in 1642 or in 896, respectively. Our heritage, however, becomes much richer and more credible when viewed through the wider lens of interrelated historical development, as also pointed out by Paludan-Müller.

Kristian Kristiansen focused on the "dark" vs "bright" sides of heritage, and using heritage in positive ways despite the ever-present threat of heritage being misused for nefarious ends. He presented the Center for Critical Heritage Studies (https://criticalheritagestudies.gu.se/) which concentrates on cultural heritage as reworking of the past in the present in multiple platforms.

The intangible idea of identity is an important realm of interest today. Are we Celts? Are we Vikings? Who owns remains from the past? Are they us or them? Pagan or Christian? Indigenous or Euro? Who was here first? Of course, there is a definite dark side to these questions, and they continue to play an unfortunately significant role in geopolitical debates within both Europe and the US. However, there is also a bright side to this: there is real interest in the past; in past people, past migrations, and the heritage related to it. We can leverage this interest.

An overall theme from this forum was inclusivity, and enabling Cultural Heritage to bring people together, to show people how their heritage is indeed shared, interconnected, interrelated, and inter-dependent. Each of the discussants, and indeed all the participants, agreed that the aim of the EYCH 2018 to “encourage more people to discover and engage with Europe's cultural heritage, and to reinforce a sense of belonging to a common European space” are important goals for archaeological heritage now and in the future.

Finally, the million-dollar question – can European archaeologists, and heritage professionals more broadly, build from this Year of Cultural Heritage a future of greater social cohesion through cultural heritage? Can North America or the Americas as a whole field a Year of Cultural Heritage? Or do we have enough with International Archaeology Day, World Heritage Day, and heritage events at the national and local levels? Much work remains to be done to achieve the stated aims of bringing people together through shared heritage, but concrete steps are being taken, and the future looks bright.

From the left: Felipe Criado-Boado, Carsten Paludan-Müller, Kristian Kristiansen and Roderick B. Salisbury.

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