A Heritage Walk for Hearing-Impaired Children

GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun – Calcutta, March 2017

INTRODUCTION
On 27th March 2017, Heritage Walk Calcutta, in collaboration with Made in Bengal and ArchaeologistsEngage, hosted the year’s first GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun event in Kolkata, India. Make Heritage Fun is a global initiative by GoUNESCO, aimed at celebrating local culture—simultaneously, across the world. This campaign provides a platform for heritage and culture enthusiasts to share local heritage with others in their community. In Calcutta, we organized an event to help children with hearing-related disabilities explore Calcutta’s history through a guided and assisted 2-hour walking tour inside the compound of St. John’s Church, one of the oldest in the city. For this event, we were proud to work with the Ideal School for the Deaf, located in Salt Lake, Kolkata. 26 of their students from 6th to 10th grade (12-17 years old) and 6 teachers actively participated in this event. The tour was led by Tathagata Neogi, an archaeologist and the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta, and translated into sign language by the accompanying teachers.

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After the walking tour, we asked the children to create a work of art about what they learned during the walk.  When ready, these paintings/sketches will be shared through our online platforms and displayed during an exhibition at the Ideal School for the Deaf later this year.

The following is a link to the live telecast at the beginning of the walk.
https://www.facebook.com/heritagewalkcal/videos/1473483729360771/

VISION
The accessibility of historic sites is an issue that has not been widely addressed globally. While some countries have recently passed legislation to ensure the accessibility of major historic sites for various groups with disabilities, this issue has not been systematically addressed in India, despite the country’s rich tangible and intangible heritage, and large population of people with disabilities. By conducting a heritage walk specifically aimed at children with hearing-related disabilities under the GoUNESCO Make Heritage Fun umbrella, we at Heritage Walk Calcutta wanted to start a discussion about the issue of accessibility in India’s historic sites. Heritage Walk Calcutta and our collaborators believe in a common, shared heritage, which members of disabled communities have an equal right to access.

DSC01119DSC01137PREPARATION
Heritage Walk Calcutta approached GoUNESCO about hosting this event under the Make Heritage Fun umbrella at the end of February. The original plan was to provide a bus tour of several major heritage sites for school children. When GoUNESCO approved our application to host an event, this idea was further refined in the hope of addressing accessibility issues in Indian heritage sites. At this time, our collaborators, Made in Bengal and ArchaeologistsEngage, came on board to provide support for the event. The idea of a bus tour was abandoned in favour of a walking tour to increase the experiential value of the event, and to give ample time for the children to connect with a single historic site in a deeper way.

The St. John’s Church complex was chosen as the venue because of its central location and historical importance as the first Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta. The church compound also houses the graves of Job Charnock, the “founder” of the city, and some other important East India Company personalities from the city’s very early days. The Church complex is also a protected site under the Archaeological Survey of India, which is a perfect setting to start discussions about the accessibility of heritage sites, and which does not have any restrictions on entry. Finally, since the children have hearing-related disabilities, the church compound provided safety from the fast moving traffic on some busiest streets in Kolkata, just outside the walls.

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After this plan was finalized, we approached the Ideal School for the Deaf through a common friend. Their authorities were very enthusiastic about the event. We discussed our plan with the head of the institute and other faculty members to come up with an accessible narrative for the children. The school requested that the event be done on Monday, March 27th, rather than on Sunday, which was the day of the international event. GoUNESCO very kindly agreed to let us host the event on this alternate day to make it easier for the children to attend, since many of them come from very far distances to attend the school. The Friday before the event, Tathagata made a presentation at the school to give the children some historical context through pictures and paintings, with translation into sign language. This also provided us, the students, and the teachers with a warm-up run for the event.

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To ensure the accessibility of the information during the walking tour, we prepared visual aids for the children. This included print outs of important names, dates and numbers in large fonts and visible colours. Tathagata also spoke slowly in Bangla so that the children, who are experts in lip-reading, could get some information immediately, without waiting for the translation. Both Tathagata and the teacher who was interpreting stood on higher ground whenever possible throughout the tour so that all of the children could easily see them. A small welcome kit was also provided for the children and their teachers, which included a bottle of water and some snacks.

Group

FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The issue of the accessibility of historic sites is very close to our hearts at Heritage Walk Calcutta. We believe that, while one-off events like these can spark a discussion, this talk will die out if it is not regularly followed up by similar events and workshops. Heritage Walk Calcutta is therefore committed to making significant contributions to this discussion by organizing follow-up events for various disabled groups and by working with different stakeholders to make heritage sites more accessible for disabled communities.

Heritage Walk Calcutta is an academic-run company in Kolkata that aims to increase awareness of heritage in the community by connecting scholars and the common people through walking tours and workshops.

Tathagata Neogi is an archaeologist and the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta.

OUR COLLABORATORS
The event would not be possible without the active support of our various collaborators and GoUNESCO. Here, I briefly introduce our collaborators and thank them for their support.

Ideal School for the Deaf: Established in 1967 by the Society for the Deaf, the school functions as a not for profit institution to provide free education for hearing impaired children. The organization is based out of Salt Lake Sector I, Kolkata, India. The school caters to students from all backgrounds in the Kolkata area and beyond.

Made in Bengal: ‘Made in Bengal.in’ is a digital platform for any product/service made by the people of Bengal..in Bengal…for the people of the world. The Made in Bengal team constantly work with artists, artisans and weavers to innovate in order to keep traditional techniques intact! The aim is to bring on more artists, manufacturers, designers, weavers, musicians, theatre artists, and so on, to this single e-platform and reach out to the world with our products, culture, art and cuisine.

ArchaeologistsEngage: ArchaeologistsEngage is an independent non-profit group of archaeologists who came together to enable engagement between professionals and the public. ArchaeologistsEngage is a registered voluntary organisation in the Norwegian Brønnøysund Register.

Typology of Heritage Utopia: Some essentials on the good heritage experience

As conductors of heritage mediation, we are often enrolled in a tale about the increasing need for making heritage experiences popular and relevant. As solutions, this discourse usually brings forward newest technologies, active participation in ‘living history’ and critical constructivist learning approaches. What seems missed, is that ‘traditional’ monumental heritage experiences still are the most visited heritage attractions, and that there is a large heritage consuming segment seeking passive and meditative experiences (as passive consumers of heritage exhibitions and through recent movements such as ‘slow-tourism’, ‘digital detox’ and ‘micro-adventure’) (Hansen 2016: 24, 80). The simple ‘being’ in a heritage environment has great value for many. In relation, we need to recognize how heritage affects our very basic tactile senses: the experience of drinking a beer is different (better) in for example the square of a medieval town than a 70s concrete building in a capital suburb.

The background for this paper, is my PhD thesis on medieval heritage experiences in Northern Europe. The project had the purpose of developing heritage industry in the Danish region of West Zealand: a region with remarkable medieval heritage and good conditions in tourism and infrastructure, but with very little budget set for attraction development (Hansen 2016). Thus, the project aimed to develop methods to detect experience attributes carried mainly by the heritage itself. In the project more than forty heritage attractions were studied. The most popular and engaging attractions had a wide extent of idiosyncratic physiognomy to it, which carries experience potentials far beyond just attracting many visitors, and much stronger than what technology and learning strategies can bring (Hansen 2016: 132ff.).

Instead of approaching these matters via the theories that have become traditional in heritage studies – the so called ‘critical’ or ‘new’ (e.g. Hooper-Greenhill 2013; Smith 2015) – I turned the theoretical attention towards thinkers on the ways ‘historical space’ is created emotionally and physically.  In particular, I found great use of Jörn Rüsen and his ‘five dimensions of historical culture’ (Rüsen 2013) and Gernot Böhme’s atmosphere theory (Böhme 1995).

The theories and attraction data led to the idea that the essentials of good heritage experiences is the Utopia of heritage: heritage (at a certain preservation state) is too good to be true – it has survived the most apocalyptic force of all, time. Moreover, it is the closest we get to communicating with the world beyond. These two factors make heritage divine and Utopian, and are what heritage experience attributes are created from (Hansen 2016: 56-58, 73-80). However, the features reflecting Utopia, differ in the various types of heritage. Hence, the typology below is an attempt to describe the different features.

  • The artifact

The artifacts with the highest degree of Utopia-effect need to carry an exotic expression to the degree where layman can recognize that the artifact is from a ‘world beyond’. Moreover, the patina needs to be at a stage where it contributes to ‘the world beyond’-experience. At the same time, it must reflect a naturalistic expression to the degree where it becomes recognizable, as well as the level of preservation should be complete at a degree where the artifact is experienced as having ‘survived’ time. In addition, the materiality of the artifacts, or its craftsmanship or exhibiting institution should also give some exclusive impression. All of these criteria are for example met in ‘the Sky Plate from Nebra’.

  • The Ruin

The Utopia-effect of a ruin is met when the degree of decay symbolizes the struggle against time, but the preservation is at a degree where the ruin is experienced as having ‘won the battle’. The big question is where the limit goes. One explanation could be at a size where grandness of the architecture and the dimensions can be discovered and the visitor can ‘go into’ the monument. Moreover, an iconic shape seems to feed the Utopia-effect. One the best examples is Hammershus Castle on Bornholm, Denmark.

  • The isolated monument (the UFO)

Another Utopia-effect can be achieved when a monument is isolated and remote to a degree where a full overview is easily accessible. Thus, it will be experienced as a fully preserved vessel from ‘another world’ just ‘landed’. Grand open landscapes and recreational settings seem to increase this experience. Ales Stenar in southern Sweden is a brilliant example of a ‘heritage UFO’.

  • The heritage room

Understood as heritage preserved to the stage where one can enter it, be inside it fully covered by roof and walls, where this space of being can be overviewed and thus the dimensions and aesthetics are grasped. Moreover, one of the important features of the experience here is the distinct border to the contemporary world outside the heritage room. The Utopia-effect is obtained when the aesthetical reflection of time is obvious (style and patina), but the spatial borders are fully preserved. The most obvious example of the heritage room is a historic church of an age and style (e.g. gothic) of which ‘the other world’ is obvious.

  • Things that dissolve Utopia

In certain cases, the awareness of heritage being ‘lost’ can lead to a Utopia-effect of its function or the process of its reconstruction. Mostly, reconstructions and replicas tend to lose their Utopia-effect. However, if the experience contains an illustration of the object being lost to time, a Utopia-effect can be achieved by an experience of the skills that created the object in the first place or the demonstration function of the ‘lost’ object. An example could be the Viking ship museum in Roskilde: an exhibition shows the ‘poor’ state of a series of Viking ship wrecks. In addition, the museum contains a fleet of Viking ships reconstructed from the archaeological knowledge of the wrecks – some of these have set for long and epic voyages under great public attentions. These are all experiences of a materialization of skills and functions that have survived beyond their tangible sources.

The heritage universe

The heritage universe refers to heritage environments beyond a single building. Here, both buildings, artifacts and nature are in combination the heritage experience. The heritage universe is at one hand a very limited world on which escapism is stimulated as well as the experience of something endless. The good experience of the heritage universe stimulates all senses and are extensively tactile. In this experience, a paradox of ‘chrono-syndrome’ (disorder of ages) appears: the consumer will typically search for a ‘time travel experience’ but at the same time search for authenticity through the impressions of time (patina, smell, humidity, assimilation with nature etc.). These impressions would not be present if it was a ‘real’ time travel back to the environments ‘original’ use and creation. The chrono-syndrome paradox is the reason why fully reconstructed or replicated environments (e.g. Viking markets) often don’t have Utopia-effect. An example of the heritage universe is the traditional Scandinavian open air museums, where original buildings have been resurrected for more than a century. Around these buildings is staged an environment which not only has had century to develop its expression, but – in some cases – is an ‘original’ environment preserved at the open air museum, while modern cities grew around it.

I sincerely hope this typology as well as the thoughts and theories behind it, will inspire future strategic decisions on what to brand and display as heritage experiences and how to stage it.

References
Böhme, G. (1995). Atmosphäre: Essays zur neuen Ästhetik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Hansen, A. B. (2016). Den gode oplevelse – af kulturarv fra vikingetid og middelalder I Midt- og Vestsjælland samt andre steder i Nordeuropa. PhD-thesis. University of Copenhagen/Museum Vestsjælland. http://www.vestmuseum.dk/Viden/Forskning.aspx
Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2013). Museums and Their Visitors. Routledge.
Rüsen, J. (2013): Historik, Theorie der geschichtwisenschaft. boehlau-verlag.
Smith, Laurajane. (2015). Theorizing Museum and Heritage Visiting. In Museum Theory. UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Andreas Bonde Hansen, PhD in Heritage Studies, Assistant Professor Leisure Management, University College Sjælland

Archaeology and Heritage on the Way to Sustainability

Session TH2-21 at the EAA Conference in Vilnius, 2nd September 2016

Sustainability has become one of those terms within heritage studies, with its meaning seemingly reducing the more it is used. It has become an all-encompassing tick-box term that provides enough justification in itself to gain the approval of funding bodies and those who want to keep heritage practice and research socially-relevant. As such, I was not necessarily expecting a lot from this session; at best hoping for a few interesting case studies that could be transferred, adapted or used in my own work. However, TH2-21 was much better than this: it had a common, if subtle, thread that linked the papers, and touched upon a broad range of issues that are actually critical for the future of archaeology and heritage as both a profession and a wider societal activity.

The session started with an interesting presentation from Anna-Carin Andersson of the University of Gothenburg. Her paper, Sustainable heritage and archaeology – a blessing or a curse? focused on archaeologists and the profession, and came to the somewhat unexpected conclusion that the concept of sustainability is not useful for archaeology: instead we should think about feasibility. It is not often that archaeologists approach the concept of what is professionally sustainable, and so this was a welcome break. Andersson left us to consider whether the EAA should move more towards being a Pan-European trade union; I am not sure about the benefits of this, but it is certainly a worthwhile discussion following the important work done in Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe.

A further discussion on practice was provided by Jan Vanmoerkerke of the French Ministry of Culture. Various legal frameworks affect the scale, scope and nature of archaeological work in France, and in the case of this paper we could also perhaps read sustainability as feasibility, but from a different perspective. If archaeological authorities only have finite resources and cannot investigate all building works, what should be prioritised? Land use and planning, as well as the law, need to be considered and connected in order to minimise the loss of archaeological sites and give heritage a sustainable future.

To papers from colleagues in Poland moved us back towards our interaction with the public. Anna Zalewska of the Polish Academy of Sciences introduced the concept of archaeological social responsibility, looking specifically at how we should address dark heritage and painful memories. This examination of the ‘memory boom’ was taken further by Kornelia Kajda of Adam Mickiewicz University; archaeologists should show that there are multiple pasts and histories and contribute with detail to enhance ‘public’ understandings of the past. Kajda looked particularly at the concept of Urbex, the exploration of abandoned places by the public: here-and-now experiences that inspire people to engage with heritage.

Sofia Voutsaki of the University of Groningen examined the use of the past in Laconia, Greece. To a certain extent, there were some similarities between this paper and that of Zalewska, in that it explored ideas of an appropriated and/or authorised past. Nationalism and identity were key elements here; but is seeking out and portraying a glorious past a sustainable strategy?

In Here I Live – interpretations of the past, present and future, Anita Synnestvedt from the University of Gothenburg introduced us to a project centred on a stone age monument situated within a residential area that is today home to many asylum seekers and people with immigrant backgrounds. The project shows how it is possible to use archaeology and heritage as a motor for integration and as a focal point for community-building. Engagement, involvement and giving the community a stake in the area’s heritage is critical in order to ensure a sustainable future for both the monument and those who live around it.

The final presentation was led by Andrea Travaglia from the University of Amsterdam and introduced a European portal for the blending of natural and cultural heritage management. It is in many ways a paradox that despite the World Heritage Convention connecting natural and cultural sites on a shared list of global significance, there is often little actual practical or administrative link between natural and cultural heritage managers. This online tool, then, is an attempt to give natural heritage professionals a better understanding of cultural heritage, and vice versa, with the hope that it will lead to better and more holistic thinking and practice. To a certain extent, this paper brought us back to the start and thinking about the sustainability or feasibility of our profession. Is a sustainable future to be found as nature-culture experts or is it essential that we stand in on the cultural/human/social side?

Sustainability, then, is not always an empty term. This session showed that it is perhaps best to see the concept of sustainability as a vessel which can be filled with multiple interpretations and meanings. The wide range of papers here testify to the fact that sustainability does not need a one-size-fits-all definition, and nor can we give it one. Archaeological sustainability is central to the discipline, and is arguably unconsciously present in the thoughts and actions of every archaeologist – although in different ways: from thinking about the feasibility of the profession, to the wider impact of one’s research, to the creation of a realistic excavation budget. Examples and ideas relating to sustainability lie latent and unconnected. Perhaps, then, in order to make the broader public aware of heritage and give archaeology and archaeologists a louder voice and role in society, we need to be more active when thinking about sustainability. How do one’s actions help make archaeology – at whatever scale – more sustainable? The lessons of this session suggest that we need to be more audible, more visible, more engaging, more engaged, more open and more collaborative.

Mark Oldham is an archaeologist with a keen interest in outreach and the role of archaeology in society. He works in Norway.