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Cross cutting themes

During the workshop, we would like to explore and suggest four main cross-cutting themes: 

a. Unveiling the dissonance of the scientific museum collections

Many collections housed in scientific museums represent relevant heritage, yet there are numerous cases where their meaning and value are still not fully disclosed. Of these, the anthropological collections which were amassed all over Europe with the creation of physical anthropology in the mid-nineteenth century, may contain dissonant meanings which have not yet been highlighted. Indeed, some materials and objects are on display in many museums but a proper narrative about their contents has not yet been built and their meaning is still misinterpreted or hidden. Many anthropological collections (such as the polychrome plaster casts of the faces of non-Western people, made during the period of European colonial expansion, and with stylized representations of racial differences) represented a propaganda tool for racist ideologies and a source of inspiration for authoritarian and nationalistic Nazi and Fascist regimes (Nilsson Stutz, 2013; Nizzo, 2015; Williams and Giles, 2016). Moving from this framework and working on some of those collections, the issue aims at critically reflecting on their meaning and value, unveiling and drawing attention to their dissonance, starting from that hierarchical representation of human variability to the promotion of cultural diversity. It is also a process of ‘giving a voice’ to marginalized minorities in the dominant heritage discourse, one in which the geography of knowledge is still reflected in the asymmetry of the center-periphery relationship.

b. The virtual dimension of cultural heritage experiences

The digital revolution has reshaped the domain of heritage. The purpose of virtual heritage is to record, preserve, and recreate the objects and processes of cultural significance to investigate the importance of the end user’s perception of digital heritage.

Technology, particularly digitization and the online availability of cultural heritage collections, provides new possibilities for creating new spaces, new forms of cultural heritage, and new conceptions and uses of the dissonant heritage. Thus, the emerging sphere of digital heritage may be seen as a project of technological harmonization, and definitely has a significant impact on any visitor’s experience. Uninterrupted access to unlimited data from the Internet, available with the use of mobile technology in every smartphone, should be seen as especially important in transforming the immediate reality of many heritage sites.

The mediatization of heritage, combined with transmediality of messages produced in relation to the objects or sites, does not necessarily result in a better understanding of the past or in developing its social potential. The aim of this theme is to explore the impact of the virtual dimension in visiting and interpreting selected sites of trauma. The final goal would also be to examine the working concept of the generalized past which can be constructed with the use of virtual reality. In this respect, mediatization will also be discussed as an aspect of collective imagination.

c. Designing the social sustainability of dissonant heritage

Cultural heritage is usually considered a basic means for promoting social and cultural sustainability, namely social justice, the participation of the local community in the decision-making process and the promotion of cultural diversity. However, the presence of difficult heritage can weaken the link between cultural heritage and sustainability. Dissonance prevents people from feeling proud of the place they live in; the unwanted past becomes an unwanted place. Residents might prefer to forget the unwanted past and avoid any kind of cultural promotion for the difficult heritage of their city (P. Battilani; C.Bernini, A. Mariotti 2018). Then, if dissonant heritage is used to highlight the uniqueness of a place, the distinctiveness can assume a negative connotation and weaken the identity of the place. When difficulties come from a conflicting narrative between different social or ethnic communities, cultural heritage can foster the conflict instead of contributing to dialogue and reciprocal recognition. In this context, two of the main contents of social sustainability can become difficult to implement: the promotion of cultural diversity and the empowerment of local community.

Dissonant heritage places comprise different risks from issues related to removing contentious historical contexts (Goulding & Domic, 2009; Roushanzamir & Kreshel, 2001) to political manipulation by extremists supporting racial and ethnic exclusiveness or totalitarianism (Tunbridge & Ashworth, 1996). In this context, international conventions provide useful tools and frameworks (UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in 2001 or the Faro convention Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society in 2005) to cope with difficult and dissonant heritage. They have the description of heritagization as a bottom up process in common.

In conclusion, difficult heritage deserves specific attention in order to contribute to the sustainable development of places.

d. Arts and dissonance

Theatre, visual arts, architecture, the film industry, music, literature, graphic design and the arts in general have played an important role in many countries, allowing individuals to deal with their dissonant past: a cultural reality often censored, removed, and forgotten. Through theatre, film, music, architecture, visual arts, and literature it is now possible to understand the relationship between the younger generations and the cultural heritage of the dissonant past, identifying the sedimentations left in the social individual by different languages: the language of totalitarian power, the language of democratic societies, and the language of art that reads reality through the impressions that it arouses.