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Disclosing Futures Rethinking Heritage


Heritage innovates. It does this partly through technological progress, but mainly by questioning current practice. A collection is not a neutral representation of the past, but acquires meaning through interactions with, and interpretations of, new generations of users. This means that heritage must, by definition, be future-oriented. At the conference Disclosing Futures – Rethinking Heritage, on 2 and 3 November in Het Nieuwe Instituut, we discussed the reorientation of the role of heritage, and innovation as a condition for sustainable collection management.

Innovation focuses on new perspectives. Whose voices are represented in a collection? Are authorship and authenticity in need of re-evaluation? And what does all this mean for the collection policy? Multivocal, speculative and intersectional research provides space for new stories and other actors. We also focus on the democratisation of heritage: on the (creative) reuse of archive material, collective research and crowd editing.

Innovation is also about technological innovation: the preservation of material heritage through new restoration techniques, and the creation of new connections between collections through techniques that take users’ questions as their starting point, instead of the organisation of data. Machine learning, virtual reality and data visualisation enable new kinds of online access that open up collections to new user groups.

Disclosing Architecture
The discussion about the reorientation of the role of heritage is based on the work of recent years, both within Het Nieuwe Instituut and at other institutions, and both nationally and internationally. In 2018, Het Nieuwe Instituut embarked on Disclosing Architecture, a six-year programme to improve the visibility and accessibility of the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, made possible by a one-off investment from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Since the start of the programme, Disclosing Architecture has contributed to developing new methodologies, promoting inclusive and multivocal research, and building networks around the collection for greater visibility, both offline and online.

Together with our partners and fellow institutions, we have put together a rich and varied programme in which we discuss the future and the roles of heritage institutions. The conference is aimed at practitioners from the heritage sector and their colleagues working together with (national) trade organisations, the government, or associated sectors, nationally and internationally. We also warmly invite designers, students and members of educational institutions to join us. Registration gives you access to a three-day programme full of inspiring presentations, intervision sessions, debates, workshops, networking opportunities and guided tours.

Presentation at CIAM conference in Otterlo, 1959. Collection Het Nieuwe Instituut, Archive Jaap Bakema, BAKE f23.

Conference themes

Rethinking Collections and Collecting. Inclusion, Exclusion and Multivocality

Societal interests, political ideologies, access to technology or economic dominance: all of these factors determine who tells the story of heritage, how this is told and what the story finally is. How can space be created for new stories and other actors? Can we promote multivocality by finding new canonical forms, vocabularies and insights that deviate from the standards we have previously used to tell stories? Inclusion and exclusion are not just related to the content archived and who does the archiving, but also to existing structures, systems and methods, and these are based on specific frameworks for thought and power relations. For instance, this theme also touches on the question of authenticity. Are existing paradigms, which form the basis for museum practice and heritage policy – with their binary concepts such as original versus copy, real versus virtual, material versus immaterial, digital versus analogue – not now obsolete?

Technologies of Heritage. Conservation, Restoration and Digitisation

Within this theme, we will explore techniques and ethics of restoration, conservation, digitisation and materials research in relation to heritage objects. What new perspectives on heritage are opened up by these techniques? We will look, among other topics, at how restoration leads to new knowledge of heritage objects, how photographic procedures can be recognised, and at new techniques such as 3D digitisation. In addition, we will share insights obtained during the process of restoration, conservation and digitisation of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s collection within the framework of the programme Disclosing Architecture.

Collaborations and Networks

What does it mean for institutions to use open platforms for archive collections, and to employ techniques that start out from users’ questions rather than the organisation van data? How can heritage institutes and external partners cooperate in a sustainable manner to open up and provide access to collections? Within this theme, we explore new participatory forms of cooperation, knowledge networks, crowdsourcing and the transition from collection data to Linked Open Data. This allows new relationships to arise within a collection, as well as new connections to be forged between collections.

The Living and Open Archive. Re-using Heritage, New User Groups and Other Interfaces

Contemporary heritage practice is characterised by active forms of participation: creation, reinterpretation, dissemination, imagination and speculation are essential concepts and practices within this. What are the implications for users of contemporary technologies? Digital archives are opening up new possibilities such as machine learning, virtual reality and data visualisation that are centred on users, approaching them not as an ‘audience’, but as participants. Within this theme we will focus on the democratisation of heritage: on facilitating the (creative) re-use of archive material, collective research and the use of behavioural profiles in the development of digital products.