Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Heritage under Threat (HuT)

global challenges and possibilities

2016 - 2021

The project is supported by Leiden University and the LDE Centre for Global Heritage and Development. Dr Sada Mire is assisted by Ms Nicky Bianca van Harris, who is herself a learner of the Heritage under Threat MOOC and working with the Centre. This project follows on the Leiden University and LDE CGH&D MOOC on Heritage under Threat. The MOOC is written and presented by Dr Sada Mire with the contributions from Leiden and LDE colleagues, among others.

This project explores heritage under threat and the impact of current global challenges such as environment, war, migration, poverty, conflict and natural crises. The threats to heritage are illustrated with case studies from around the world, a unique data that illuminates this multifaceted issue.

Aim of the research:

With the support from the Centre for Global Heritage and Development, this educational research project aims to address the global issue of Heritage under Threat. Since two decades now, intentional destruction continues to grab headlines around the world. However, heritage is also continuously threatened by neglect which causes broader harm. How can we protect heritage, not only from the attacks but also from the everyday neglect? This project uniquely investigates this issue by starting with what people believe is their heritage, from a personal perspective. From this departure, it builds understanding of the relationship between the definition of heritage (individually and collectively) and protection of cultural heritage. There are many agencies, instruments and stipulations for the protection of heritage. But how can recognizing diversity in our own pasts help appreciate diversity in other cultures and heritage and ways of life? Using a multidisciplinary approach including digital and ethnography, the research project investigates theoretical and practical approaches including the role of law in the protection of cultural heritage. The future implications of the recent case of the ICC’s AL-Mahdy case and the previous ITCY prosecution of the destruction of cultural heritage will be analyzed.  

Taleh Fortress in the Somali region (Photo: Neville Chittick)
Taleh Fortress in the Somali region (Photo: Neville Chittick)

Research questions:

It starts with the question: what is your heritage? This question might seem simple but when asked directly to an individual it reveals much more about the individual and our societies where ever we are. It also relates to a central issue in the heritage under threat discourse- who defines heritage? What are the relationships between heritage and inequality and poverty in the context of heritage under threat? What is under threat exactly and from what and why? What role can national and international law play in the protection of heritage? How has recent cases of intentional destruction of cultural heritage impacted the international debate as well as actions of organizations such as the UN and human rights agencies? How do we deal with contested colonial collections in the former colonial powers? What are the local and global values and why do they clash with ownership and representation in museums? These are just some of the issues that the research is grappling with.


The project will lead to various publications including a textbook that explores why Heritage is under threat in today’s societies, globally and locally. It brings different perspective on the destruction of heritage to provide an up-to-date understanding of the root causes of threats. This project explores different approaches to discourses of research, protection, collection, repatriation or reconstruction of cultural heritage, as built on previous and current research of Dr Sada Mire. It also discusses the uses of heritage as in peace-making like the case in Somaliland.  It aims to illustrate an example of inclusive heritage and the role that the digital heritage can play. The research project started in 2015 and will be concluded with a book publication in 2018.

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