Concept International Graduate School

Marie-Theres Albert 2012

Concept International Graduate School:

Heritage Studies – Heritage Transformation Processes and Human Development


The preservation, collection and development of natural and cultural heritage as well as their preparation and dissemination to all segments of the population is a key task for current and future generations. So says the preamble of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year. In fact, it is considered UNESCO’s most successful convention, because with its implementation, the international community succeeded in identifying heritage as a good to be preserved for future generations and embedded its significance into the public consciousness. Other conventions and programs concerned with the construction of heritage relevant to sustainable human development include the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and the Memory of the World Programme for the preservation of documentary heritage. Stemming from the worldwide acceptance and implementation of these instruments, social awareness regarding the inherent potential of heritage was transformed from the 20th to the 21st century. The International Graduate School Heritage Studies (IGS) was established as a direct result of these transformations and the growing social awareness and actions of the 21st century.


Today, more than ever, heritage is created and valued because of its significance to human development. As such, its protection and use are also viewed as potential opportunities to create cultural identity and build peace. For this reason, the preservation and protection of heritage, as well as its use and re-use must meet specific criteria concerning sustainable development. The protection and use of heritage require comprehensive individual and socially responsible action from all stakeholders involved in these processes. Responsible action from people or groups requires a strong knowledge and awareness of the importance of heritage in shaping the future. This can only be achieved if all concerned stakeholders are involved in the processes of heritage protection and use.

The formation of responsible awareness and actions in the interest of shaping a peaceful future is aimed not only at the founding documents of UNESCO, but also at all of the conventions and strategies that have focused on the protection of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as the natural and documentary heritage of mankind in all its diverse representations. One of the comprehensive objectives of the IGS is to meet these standard requirements. In particular, it must theoretically substantiate and develop the perspectives formulated by the UNESCO conventions. Because there are very few answers so far, IGS aims to initiate and successfully implement research projects that meet the challenges facing the sustainable protection and use of heritage in the interest of human development. The answers that do exist are either based on the construction of heritage (tangible or intangible) and their accompanying disciplinary approaches or the political ambitions of UNESCO.

Taking into account the objectives mentioned above, research in the International Graduate School Heritage Studies is organized as part of a structured doctoral program. The principal objective of the PhD programme is the completion of a dissertation and its defence. The programme of the IGS Heritage Studies is designed so that the degree can be achieved within the intended time frame. To this end, the PhD programme offers a structure for working on the dissertation that provides an orientation for both German and international PhD students with their institutionally and culturally heterogeneous learning experiences.


PhDs in the broad field of Heritage Studies should be based on their own profile as well as the following paradigmatically formulated questions and answers: How should Heritage Studies be positioned within the scientific discourse so that it can be identified as a relevant paradigm in relation to heritage themes? What epistemological interests and methods should Heritage Studies utilize in order to meet the extensive demands of heritage phenomena? Which disciplinary, inter- and/ or transdisciplinary discourses should be integrated into Heritage Studies so that they can be developed to provide expert answers to the challenges of globalization? And last, but not least, how should theory and practice be combined in order to provide reliable answers, from Heritage Studies’ point of view, to questions concerning social and political development? I would like to emphasize that neither the formulation of questions, nor the search for answers is about revealing the truth. Rather, the phenomenon of heritage should be understood as it relates to its various facets and dynamics. Thus, the central paradigm of the constructed approach is formulated. Heritage Studies is understood as a scientific examination of the transformative processes that heritage undergoes, which take place as a result of globalization. 

Heritage Studies is also positioned in the epistemology because of the transformative processes outlined above. It is understood as a critical discipline that deals with research questions and topics not only in an interdisciplinary and/ or transdisciplinary way, but also as directly resulting from the different conditions and experiences of people throughout the world. First of all, this means that research findings must be situated within the context of diversity. It also means that the world’s cultural diversity must be actively reflected in the various approaches and methods of Heritage Studies. Last but not least, it means strategies must be developed for the future, particularly keeping in mind the sustainable management of heritage. In other words, it is about gaining knowledge in an attempt to further develop both the theoretical aspects of Heritage Studies and also practical strategies for its implementation. Theory as well as practice in Heritage Studies should be paradigmatically designed for human development. The following table provides an overview of the topics, content and methods that are considered the central concept of the International Graduate School Heritage Studies:

Structure of a Paradigmatic Research System for Heritage Studies

Overall objectives of Heritage Studies Overall conditions for development
Heritage transformation processes and human development Impacts of globalization on heritage: migration, sustainability, climate change, participation, empowerment, (in-)equality, commons, diversity etc.
Constituent components of heritage Corresponding sciences and approaches of research
Culture, nature, diversity, tangible and intangible heritage etc. Humanities, natural and social sciences, structural sciences and engineering
Interests of knowledge Corresponding epistemologies
Constructivist, hermeneutic, empirical (phenomenological), critical and analytic or poststructuralist approaches
Realization Corresponding methods
Text analysis and interpretation, discourse analysis, qualitative and quantitative empirical research, structural and natural research meth-ods

Research Foci

IGS Heritage Studies examines the various facets of tangible and intangible heritage, taking into account questions of cultural identity, diversity and sustainability. Along these lines, as a cross-section of the multiple research foci, the IGS Heritage Studies is interdisciplinary and therefore includes many heritage related disciplines.

Under the direction of the UNESCO Chair in Heritage Studies, five research areas were developed, conceptualized and implemented.

1)   Tangible Heritage in the Context of Global Change

In this focus area, research typically examines multi-dimensional issues within the context of global processes of transformation (migration, climate change, tourism, etc.) and their impact on tangible heritage. Attempting to explore the different dimensions of tangible heritage, represented as individual monuments, in cultural and urban landscapes, in archaeological sites or in ensembles of monuments, the UNESCO Chair in Heritage Studies aims to strengthen cooperation with innovative research institutions around the world. For example, urgent research is needed concerning the subjects of sustainability in cultural and urban landscapes or in defining authenticity in processes of modernization of infrastructure. This requires close cooperation with other disciplines such as Architecture, Civil Engineering and City Planning.

Key words: global tourism and heritage; heritage as a cultural practice; climate change and the construction/ transformation of heritage; processes of migration and heritage; and, development and heritage.

2)  Intangible Heritage/ Religion/ Identity/ Diversity

Research in this focus area will centre on the formation and development of intangible heritage taking into account intangible cultural expressions and practices.The goal is to expand on the conventional scientific constructs of heritage and identity in the context of the UNESCO Conventions, and to initiate new research for the safeguarding of intangible heritage, as defined by the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the diversity of Cultural Expressions. Studies in this thematic area could for instance examine traditional religious and ceremonial or musical expressions and dances in the context of dynamic concepts of culture, or they could focus on the concern that safeguarding efforts may potentially led to static expressions. A new and very challenging research field in this focus area is the investigation of the potentials for “valorisation” of economic, cultural or social expressions of life.

Key words: religious and ritual practices; musical expressions and dance; concepts concerning the protection and safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage; protection of cultural diversity; and, the function and effects of museums on the mediation of intangible cultural heritage.

3)   Sustainable Protection and Use of Heritage in the Context of Innovative Heritage Concepts

This focus area critically examines UNESCO’s so-called four pillars of sustainability (cultural, economic, social and environmental) and their contradictions by means of current developments. A major research interest within this focus is the examination of innovative management strategies for the sustainable protection and use of the world’s cultural heritage. Furthermore, it aims to actively develop a program for intercultural conflict management and mediation by integrating perspectives from the fields of philosophy, social sciences, law, economics and corporate management.

Key words: paradigm shifts in the understanding of heritage from cultural goods to economically exploited products; marketing and heritage; limits and possibilities of participatory approaches in the management of heritage; and, protection and use of heritage in urban and regional development.

4)    Cultural Landscapes

Under this focus area, research is aimed at exploring UNESCO’s understanding of cultural landscapes as well as the associated political strategies for balancing the World Heritage List. Students should contrast UNESCO’s interpretations with the diversity of existing theoretical approaches and develop syntheses. They search for answers to questions which have emerged or further developed out of the contradictory implementations of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Key words: cultural practices and the emergence of cultural landscapes; the interplay between culture and nature; land use and biodiversity; and, urban landscapes as heritage.

5)   Heritage Mediation through Innovative Technologies/ Memory of the World

Research in this focus area explores the strategic objectives of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme. Against this background, the aim of this research is to examine the various theories and strategies of heritage communication as well as their application. International interest in developing the subject of documentary heritage and combining cultural and technical resources has already been expressed. The theme documentary heritage opens up cooperation with many other chairs around the world.

Keywords: interactive learning; interpretation and dissemination of heritage through new media; added value of the digitization of heritage.

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