On Common Grounds? Researching Public Engagements of Museums and Heritage Sites

Archaeological museums, sites, or community initiatives around the world are involved in manifold projects to engage publics with material cultures of the past. Among these are exhibitions, tours, and workshops, as well as lectures, conferences, festivals, and collaborations. Some of these projects are geared to go beyond the idea of transmitting expert knowledge to lay people. Instead, they are deliberately set up to inspire critical reflection on heritage and the values and power dynamics attached to it, and to facilitate dialogue about the uses of the past in the present. Many of such approaches are inspired by theoretical ideas and methods from critical pedagogy, critical heritage and museum studies, indigenous or community archaeology. While these approaches are intended to increase the accessibility of museums and heritage sites, empower people and enhance participation, research has also pointed to the challenges connected to them in practice, such as the danger of “empowerment-lite” (Lynch 2011), tokenistic treatment of collaboration partners, or the absence of a true commitment from the relevant heritage institution.

The workshop “On Common Grounds?” aims to bring together people from different parts of the world whose research critically reflects on the processes and impacts of these critical approaches. Sparked by inputs from experienced academics and practitioners from the field and informed by local experiences and research, the group of selected participants will explore the processes, dynamics and complexities of such heritage projects. Which theoretical ideas guide critical approaches to public engagement with the past? Which methods are used to put them into practice? Who gets involved and who is left out and for what reason? How is power distributed among people and institutions involved in such projects? How are different values, knowledges, and affects about heritage negotiated? What is recognized as knowledge or expertise? What are the long-term effects of such endeavors? How can qualitative research help to enhance our understanding of the processes involved? And, last but not least, what are the “common grounds” that are being constructed through these projects?

This workshop is funded by TOPOI – a research network with a focus on the study of the ancient world. The network explicitly aims to further understanding about heritage and the manifold uses of it in light of debates around increasing social diversity, and political instabilities. As part of a wider research endeavor, funding has been provided to explore the practices of negotiating heritage in plural societies, not at least in the light of the European Year of Cultural Heritage and its motto, ‘Sharing Heritage’.

It is organized by the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Master Programme for Museum Management and Communication at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW) in Berlin. It takes place from October 1-5 2018 in Berlin at HTW (Campus Wilhelminenhofstraße).
To contribute to global justice in academia, the workshop has been set up to bring together an equal number of researchers from the Global North and South.Participants include early career researchers (PhD- and Postdoc- level) as well as heritage practitioners who have conducted applied research (e.g. artistic research, evaluation) from a broad range of disciplines such as archaeology, social or cultural anthropology, sociology, social geography, museum and heritage studies, and pedagogy.

The deadline for applications has exceeded. However, there’s a chance to join discussions on October 4th, from 2.30 pm on. If you wish to join in, please don’t hesitate to contact the organisers:

Rikke Gram ( and Christine Gerbich (