Archaeology and UK soft power

Posted on June 7, 2017


An interesting session from the CIfA conference we filmed. Archaeology as soft power?

Session Details

Organisers: Keith Nichol, Head of Cultural Diplomacy, Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Gerry
Wait, Heritage Consultant at Nexus Heritage; Leonora O’Brien, Cultural Heritage Consultant at AECOM; Peter Hinton, Chief Executive, CIfA

‘Culture, in all its dimensions, is a fundamental component of sustainable development’ (UNESCO, The Power of Culture for
Development, 2010)

Soft power is a term used to describe influence through cultural values and policies. It is a key implement of UK cultural diplomacy overseas, geared towards promoting prosperity and stability. The historic environment, and particularly its study through archaeology, can be a powerful medium for the exercise of soft power; and UK government’s interest in soft power can be used to facilitate archaeological investigation, conservation, training and capacity-building programmes.
This interactive workshop will explore how development assistance and capacity-building on overseas heritage projects can help to promote and influence local and international standards, and build relationships with our counterparts in other countries. It will look at how archaeologists can support UK government, and vice versa. Projects in the developing world can make significant contributions to developing and enforcing local heritage protection systems and field methods, despite being aimed at project-specific issues and questions. In the long term, it is important to engage with partners to develop good governance systems, demonstrate transparency and accountability, and build the capacity of local institutions to manage their own heritage.
Balancing this overarching perspective with specific project tasks is desirable but difficult to achieve. Each project offers a small-scale opportunity to raise the expectations and demands of heritage agencies, archaeological practitioners and local communities. Tangible heritage, field surveys and archaeological mitigation programmes are only one aspect. Intangible, political, ethical and spiritual aspects are essential: project sponsors need to fully understand local cultural contexts, values and traditions to work effectively. Translating cultural concepts is key. Moving from project-specific to cultural concepts within specific projects is difficult but not impossible, and linkages to soft power and cultural diplomacy is the next challenge.
Cultural heritage is directly linked to economic development – for example, cultural industries and tourism, traditional livelihoods, micro-enterprises and the development of cultural infrastructure and institutions. Culture can be a force for social cohesion, and traditional systems of food production and environmental management are fundamental to sustainability. After an introduction to soft power, two case studies will consider how socio-economic and environmental benefits can be optimised by integrating culture into development. Following the three presentations, the workshop will turn to discussion. What more can archaeologists do? What works well and what doesn’t? What support do we need from UK government? Can we do more to promote the potential of archaeology? How big is the market?

Case study 1: The soft power of archaeology and cultural heritage in the Gobi Desert Gerry Wait, Nexus Heritage
Through the middle years of the first decade of the 21st century Mongolia was booming, but despite frenetic business activity all was (and is) not well. Unconstrained mineral exploration and exploitation does not benefit everyone and this feature of ‘globalisation’ is just as evident in Ulaan Baatar as it might be in Bradford or Crewe. Into that swirl of activity, a large-scale archaeological project expanded to encompass the export of expertise in increasingly strategic layers, and then the exercise of soft cultural power in ways completely unanticipated.

Case study 2: Cultural heritage projects, central and northern Mauritania Leonora O’Brien, AECOM

Exporting cultural heritage expertise can change the expectations and requirements of national heritage authorities, raising the bar in terms of archaeological survey and mitigation and ensuring that cultural aspects are appropriately considered in mining and industrial development projects. Working closely with developers, heritage authorities and local experts, these projects provided an unexpected opportunity to apply current standards in developer-funded heritage assessment, design and mitigation. Identifying cultural heritage issues at an early stage is key to ensuring that local values are recognised and that socio-economic agendas are culturally relevant.

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