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Role play in Maritime Archaeology class

This academic year Martijn Manders taught the course of Maritime Archaeology and cultural heritage management for the 8th year. Manders tries to make his students understand how humans and water are related and most importantly: what part does heritage management play in the discipline? To try and make us understand, he wanted us to engage in a roleplay, for us to be actively involved with underwater cultural heritage management and to recognize what processes take place to make a project come to life.

Flooding Wieringen

The project for us this year was a huge construction plan that actually (partly) existed once but had never been executed: to make Wieringen (Noord-Holland, The Netherlands) the island it once was, before the land was reclaimed from the sea. The scenario was to flood part of the earlier reclaimed land again, to renovate and expand the existing harbour in Den Oever and to create three new shipping lanes between the island and Den Helder, Oudeschild and Harlingen.


For the roleplay, Manders divided us into six groups. Each group represented different stakeholders: the city council, the construction company, the local community, the national department of culture, local fishers and divers/amateur archaeologists. This resulted in each group getting a different assignment. The stakeholders eventually sat down together for a final meeting, where the stakeholders had to negotiate our believes and make a decision on the project.

One decision

The roleplay started about two months before the final meeting would take place. Firstly, the city council had to draw up the plan and make the announcement to Wieringen and all the stakeholders. Then, after a meeting between the city council and the construction company, the construction company had to actually design a construction plan including an estimation of the amount of work and a budget assessment.

The last few weeks of the roleplay, after both the announcement and the construction plan were published, the other stakeholders had the opportunity to react to the plans, to offer their opinions and to introduce possible adjustments. The city council had to respond to all the questions and ideas the other stakeholders had. That way, during the final meeting, all the groups could get to one decision.

Changing plans

The final meeting aimed to have each group express their own ideas and opinions on the scenario. Specifically, if and how the harbour should or should not be developed. The meeting started with a presentation of the construction company on their construction plans. The next part of the meeting was designed freely so that all the stakeholders could talk to each other and discuss the believes and opinions. Then, after a while, we all had to decide which stakeholders could represent the other stakeholders and what stakeholders could have a seat at the table.

The only group that already had a seat at the table was the city council. After occupying that seat, there were only three seats left for the remaining five stakeholders. It took a firm discussion to eventually decide that the other three spots would be filled with representatives from the construction company, the local community and the fishing community. After one representative of each of previous mentioned groups was chosen, the discussion started. Other students could help and assist their representative by writing short notes and handing them to their representative. After the meeting, the plans of the city council were slightly changed, but not to the benefit of all stakeholders… that's life.

Complexities of heritage management

The roleplay is a creative and entertaining way to make us understand the complexity of heritage management and particularly to get us to perceive the different opinions and believes (of the stakeholders) that need to be taken into account in real life situations.

By Amy van Saane

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