Museums have to decide how to deal with colonial robbery in their collections, schools have to discuss every year whether and how they want to celebrate traditional events in the calendar and local authorities have to consult with residents about how to repurpose empty churches. Heritage professionals play an important role in many of these decisions, as discussion partners, advisors, project leaders or otherwise. The research group examines what forms of knowledge and skill can help professionals, but also the general public, in making the right choices when dealing with pressing heritage issues. The Cultural Heritage research group conducts this research, with and for the heritage field.
The research group works from the idea that it is important to understand the interplay of interests, emotions and knowledge claims that surround traditions, museum collections, exceptional places and old buildings. Gaining an understanding of the complex dynamics originating from the formation of heritage contributes to “heritage wisdom”. Heritage wisdom encompasses the entirety of competences that enable people to relate to heritage critically and to have a conversation about it, and doing so while being aware of the social dynamics surrounding heritage and their own position in it. Heritage wisdom is an important competence, not only for heritage professionals but for all citizens of the 21st century.
To build a heritage-wise society, the research group developed the emotion networks method together with Imagine IC and other partners. Emotion networks are the various feelings that people have about a heritage item, which can sometimes clash drastically. However, emotion networking can also be used as verb. It is an exercise that provides insights into the complex interplay of emotions and interests surrounding heritage. The aim of emotion networking is to enable participants to see how mutual relationships can change and thereby become (more) aware of the complex dynamics surrounding heritage.
All the work of the research group is based on the vision that heritage is not merely about objects, but an understanding that certain objects are considered by some people as being essential to their culture or identity. It is a quality mark that is awarded when people feel that there has been a rapid change, loss or alienation. By calling objects or traditions "heritage" and nurturing them as such, people underline their importance while at the same time claiming ownership, which often stems from their history. This heritage-making process always involves conflicting interests and emotions: someone cherishing an object as heritage may be perceived by another as painful, offensive or petty. This makes the work of heritage professionals and the research around the theory, practice and ethics of the professional management of heritage very complex, but also quite challenging.
Heritage professionals can make a difference in complex heritage interactions and in tackling explicit heritage issues. How? Through meaningful interventions. The research group designs and explores professional interventions in four areas: (1) urban renewal and quality of life, (2) religion and museums, (3) food and nature and (4) celebration and commemoration. The research takes place through various subprojects, in which teachers and students from the Reinwardt Academy collaborate with numerous partners from the Netherlands and abroad.
Hester Dibbits has been a lector in cultural heritage and a director of the international master's programme at the Reinwardt Academy since 2011. Starting in 2014, she has combined her work for the academy as endowed professor at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, where Dibbits holds the chair of Historical Culture and Education, which was established by the LKCA. She previously worked as a researcher for the Ethnology Department of the Meertens Institute (KNAW) and as interim chief curator for the Netherlands Open Air Museum. In her work, Dibbits is always looking for connections between the scientific world and heritage. She uses a combined historical and ethnological perspective, focussing especially on heritage and the culture of everyday life. Dibbits supervises MA and PhD student as they research material culture, heritage, museums and education. She is the representative of the NWA route Living History of the National Science Agenda and a member of the National Research Council for Cultural Heritage.
Would you like to know more about our projects, researchers or are you seeking any collaborative possibilities? Please contact Hester Dibbits by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.