thumbnail Ambitious project to safeguard ‘at risk’ cultures around the world

From Northumbrian clog dances to Chinese dragon quilts, Newcastle University is undertaking an ambitious project designed to help preserve cultural heritage from across the globe.

A small team of researchers in the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies is working with partners from around the world to create an international database which will not only be used to record cultural information but will also serve as a practical tool to document culture out in the field.

Funded by the European Commission, the €950,000 project will involve communities on four continents - China, England, South America and Africa - with particular emphasis on safeguarding heritage considered ‘at risk’.

“As far as we are aware, this is the first time something like this has been attempted,” said Dr Aron Mazel, who is co-leading the project with colleague Gerard Corsane. “There are other databases out there, but nothing this extensive that can also be used as a collection tool.

“This is not simply an academic pursuit; it involves working with people on the ground to ensure important cultural heritage is preserved for generations to come.”

Among the subjects included in the en-compass project are art, craft and traditional skills, languages, poems and stories, traditions, ceremonies and rituals, music, songs and dance. An international travelling exhibition will highlight some of the key items collected during the project, along with the importance of safeguarding these cultures.

The database will include the origins and history of each item, including details such as its purpose and significance and any threats to its continued existence.

One of the key themes of the project is to bring people together from the different countries through a series of workshops and exchange visits. “You can never fully experience other people’s culture unless you are actually there and you can almost see them turning the experience over in their minds and really taking it all in,” said Gerard Corsane.

“We might talk in different languages and have different issues to face but we all have similar challenges when it comes to safeguarding our heritage and can hugely benefit from working together.”

Three students from each of the participating countries will also be offered a place on a masters course within the University’s International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies.
“This is an excellent opportunity to further Newcastle’s links with the rest of the world,” added Dr Mazel.

The partner organisations are the Hainan Provincial International Cultural Exchange Centre  (China), Iwokrama International Centre (Guyana), and the Center for Heritage Development in Africa (Kenya) and the project is due to end in September 2013.

For more information visit the en-compass website.

Caption: A Kaya elder making a floormat out of reeds.


published on: 16th January 2012

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