Shared Heritage on the Historic Trade Routes
This ongoing research program investigates the many facets of the historic trade routes in the Indian Ocean that form the foundation of cultural networks and resulted in the emergence of a vast shared or contested heritage. It explores these networks through maritime landscapes from the earliest maritime settlements through shipwrecks and to the development of the port cities that were the cross roads between cultures and whose living heritage still plays an active role in the network. A holistic approach to these maritime cultural landscapes encourages interdisciplinary investigation.
Historic Port Cities as World Heritage Sites
A specific aspect of this research is around World Heritage Sites (WHS) that are connected through historical themes like: trade, shipping, (de)colonization and current heritage management issues like: international heritage policies, authorized heritage systems versus local knowledge systems. Currently the WHS of Galle (Sri Lanka), Stone Town (Zanzibar), Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique), Robben Island (South Africa) are included in this research.
Bronze Age Boat reconstruction
Parthesius is co-principal investigator the Bronze Age Boat Project which is a joint NYUAD-Zayed University research initiative to construct a hypothetical archaeological reconstruction of an 8-m Bronze Age vessel that connected Magan with the ancient world. The boat is a composite reed-timber-bitumen vessel that relies on a variety of historical evidence, including archaeological boat remains, iconography and cuneiform texts from the third millennium BCE for its design.
This multi-disciplinary project is analyzing fragments of trade ceramics recovered from archaeological and historical sites on the historic trade routes. Data will allow researchers to study cultural exchange networks and gain valuable insights into local and long-distance trade and shipping routes. Interdisciplinary research by materials scientists, conservators and archaeologists brings together partners from the region and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Robert Parthesius (1962) initially worked as curator of the Amsterdam Museum and lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. During that time, he developed a track record of research projects and museum exhibitions in Europe, Asia and Australia with a focus on cultural exchange. Significant projects include initiation of the Maritime Archaeological Unit and the excavation of the Dutch East-Indiaman Avondster in Galle, Sri Lanka (1997-2007). In 2010 the Amsterdam University Press published his book ‘Dutch Ships in Tropical Waters’.
During his work in Sri Lanka, Parthesius developed an interest in heritage studies and the complex relationship between local communities, indigenous knowledge and the management of World Heritage Sites. In 2006, he was appointed as director of the CIE–Centre for international Heritage Activities and Associate Professor at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands. This institutional base allowed him to further his ideas on alternative heritage management models in our globalizing world. The program of rehabilitation of the cultural sector in Afghanistan and the heritage programs in Sub-Saharan Africa in cooperation with Robben Island Museum and the South African Heritage Resources Agency, allowed him, a network of local communities and his research group to bring theory in practice. In the publication ‘A changing World, Perspectives on Heritage’ (2014) the experiences in Afghanistan are shared.
In 2015, as a Visiting Professor and now as Associate Professor at New York University Abu Dhabi, he founded Dhakira Center for Heritage Studies to foster a hub for exploring new models of heritage management and creation in the Gulf. The focus of this has been multidisciplinary HeritageLab, a concept for more inclusive and sustainable models for heritage studies since 2013. As part of his research for both Leiden University and New York University, Parthesius has created research and field schools for students at World Heritage Sites connected throughout the historical Arabian Trade Route, including Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. He has organized several international conferences at NYUAD, including ‘The Unpredictable Past’ (2014), ‘Connected Through Heritage’ (2015), ‘Dialogues with the Past’ (2016) and Scientific Research for Cultural Heritage (2017) and co-organized a regional conference on underwater cultural heritage management together with ICCRIOM -ATHAR (UAE) and UNESCO.