Heritage and Environment

How can humanity remake its relationship with the material world so as to exist sustainably in the 21st century?

Human actions have for the first time become a determining cause of Earth-system change, the most obvious manifestation of which is global warming. We believe that the onset of the Anthropocene calls for a profound rethinking of human material practices. These include the commercialisation and privatisation of common resources such as water, the rapid abandonment and destruction of old settlements and heritage sites, and the escalating discharge of waste materials, including plastic, into terrestrial and marine environments. Drawing upon a unique convergence of skills and experience in heritage and museum studies, the environmental humanities, cultural studies, archaeology, and environmental education, the program is developing new conceptual tools and policy alternatives for living in the 21st century. These include a study of ways and means of strengthening the water commons by encouraging the drinking of tap water over bottled water; a study of the history and social value of coastal reclamations in Australia and China, aimed at better understanding adaptations to sea level rise, and an international study of the ways that museums approach the issue of climate change. New research is being launched to examine options for conserving heritage sites in rapidly developing parts of Asia, including Mongolia and China. Research is also under way to develop a transnational approach to interpreting migrant heritage and this is complemented by a study of heritage-making by recent migrants from China and India in Parramatta. Our approach interrogates the material legacies of the past in order to reconceptualise sustainability in the present; it works fluidly across the mutually enfolded domains culture and nature; it promotes the kind of critical and imaginative thinking necessary to meet environmental challenges of the kind we now live with.

Members of the Heritage and Environment program include Professor Gay Hawkins, Professor Tony Bennett, Professor Emma Waterton and Dr Hayley Saul.

Gay Hawkins, Tony Bennett, Emma Waterton and Hayley Saul stand beside the Institute for Culture and Society building, beneath trees.