Heritage From Below: concept and method
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Gloucestershire
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Built Environment and Design: Architecture
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The origins of this category and critical concept lie in Dr Robertson's
interest in the way local
communities have sought to put the past to use in the present. A strong
interest in public histories
in the Scottish Highlands, both individual and communal, has brought
significant opportunities for
collaboration with, and dissemination to, local history organisations and
other community groups.
Further impact includes: the curating of an art exhibition; engaging with
practitioners to explore the
ways in which memories of flooding can be utilised in future resilience;
contributions to debates on
land and identity in the Scottish Highlands.
The underpinning research in this field (which continues) originated in
work which led to the
publication of the monograph Landscapes of Protest in the Scottish
Highlands after 1914: the later
Highland Land Wars (Ashgate, 2013). It became apparent, however,
that there was also an
opportunity to make a contribution to the interdisciplinary field of
critical heritage studies through
the exploration of a contemporary movement to memorialise these protest
oral histories and documentary evidence, Robertson was able to show that
there was an important
politics underlying memorialisation efforts which speaks of and to local
Drawing on this and other contexts, Robertson went on to develop a method,
category and concept
which critiqued both dominant paradigms and the spatial scale at which the
deployment of the past
in the present has been analysed. Hence, `Heritage from Below' is taken to
mean the uses of the
past in the present that set out to challenge hegemonic interpretations.
This is understood
differently from `local' history, which has a specific spatial register of
Robertson's work has subsequently focussed on the development, deepening
and expansion of
these interests. The importance of land and local identity in memory work
was addressed in essays
in edited collections and a keynote lecture at the Permanent European
Conference for the Study of
the Rural Landscape in Berlin in 2006. The concept was first outlined in The
Companion to Heritage and Identity in 2008 and later that year
Robertson took up a Visiting
Research Fellowship in the Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University
(Western Australia), where
he was able to further his research and develop his thinking in
collaboration with others. The
culmination of all this activity was the coming together of a group of
interested in developing work around the concept of `heritage from below'.
A collection of essays
entitled Heritage From Below was published by Ashgate in 2012
under Robertson's editorship.
Robertson has extended the reach of `heritage from below' through a
number of funded research
projects, including an AHRC network and an ESRC standard grant. In both
instances the principle
aim was the investigation of the ways in which memories of past flood
events can be deployed to
aid resilience in future events. Here, Robertson acted as oral history
advisor and developed a
strong working relationship with members of the local arts community.
Collaborative activities with
colleagues at Curtin University continue, and Professor Roy Jones has been
appointed to a
Visiting Professorship at the University of Gloucestershire in order to
explore new, but related,
research strands. Most recently, Robertson has been awarded a University
Research Grant to lead on a project investigating senses of heritage
associated with the family
croft and surrounding land and identity in the Scottish Highlands. This
also addresses themes of
memory and loss, the focus of a panel that Robertson and Jones will
co-chair at the 2nd
International Conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies
in Brisbane in December
All of these projects have involved community partnerships and impact
beyond a purely academic
audience. Robertson is, for instance, currently working with the
collective, Walking the Land, to explore ways in which the arts can be
deployed to help build
community resilience in the face of future flood events.
References to the research
The main outputs of this research are:
`Walking the Wateryscape' (with R. Keating and K. Portman), Journal
of Arts and Communities,
nos. 1 and 2, vol. 4, 2013, pp. 10-31.
`Memory, Heritage and the Micropolitics of Memorialisation', in E.
Cameron (ed.), Recovering from
the Clearances, Kershader, Isle of Lewis, 2013, pp. 147-62.
Heritage From Below, London: Ashgate, 2012, 244 pp.
`Heritage From Below', in B. Graham and P. Howard (eds), Ashgate
Research Companion to
Heritage and Identity, London: Ashgate, 2008, pp. 143-58.
`Land, People and Identity: Popular Protest in the Highlands of Scotland
after 1914', in L. Kennedy
and R. J. Morris (eds), Order and Dis-order: Ireland and Scotland,
1600-2001, Edinburgh: Birlinn,
2006, pp. 189-202.
`Memory, Identity and the Memorialisation of Conflict in the Scottish
Highlands', (with T. Hall), in N.
Moore and Y. Whelan (eds), Heritage, Memory and the Politics of Space:
New Perspectives on the
Cultural Landscape, London: Ashgate, 2006, pp. 19-36.
with P. Richards, (eds), Studying Cultural Landscapes, London:
Arnold, 2003, 216 pp.
Details of the impact
Robertson's research on `heritage from below' and its significance to an
understanding of the use
of the past in the present more generally has been disseminated through
books, articles, radio
broadcasts (on the preservation of unpopular public buildings, for
instance) and public lectures.
This has led to an enhanced public awareness of the cultural role of
memory work and
memorialisation more generally, and of the possibilities offered by
heritage, when expressed from
below more specifically.
Robertson's commitment to bringing his work to a wider audience is
evidenced through a number
of different fora. In 2006, for example, the Countryside Agency took the
decision to lodge the
archive of the outputs from the funding stream Local Heritage Initiative
(LHI) at the University of
Gloucestershire, partly in recognition that Robertson's work was the most
supportive of the
Initiative. Usage figures for this archive compare favourably `to a couple
of other collections that we
have that are in a similar situation' (UG archivist). LHI material has
also been used in a diverse
range of exhibitions, including Open Days, public lectures, reunions and
for the Gloucestershire
Rural Community Council Committee.
In October 2006, Robertson was researching a land disturbances
memorialisation project in the
Outer Hebrides and was invited to feed back his findings to the organising
Cuimhneanchain nan Gaisgeach. This marked the beginning of wider
community engagement in the region. Testimony to the nature of this impact
has been provided by
John Randall, chair of the Islands Book Trust, a major force for
regeneration in the Outer Hebrides.
According to Randall, Robertson's efforts have both enhanced `local pride
in and understanding of
the valuable heritage of these islands' and `had a beneficial impact on
some of the most rural parts
of the UK - through Iain's own visits, those of his students and the
higher profile given through his
presentations to the memorial cairns which now attract a significant
number of visitors. I am aware
that the community-run shop, hostel and café at the Ravenspoint centre on
South Lochs, Lewis, as
well as other local businesses, have benefitted from these visits'.
In 2010/11 Robertson acted as co-organiser of the AHRC-funded Living
Flood Histories workshops
which drew in arts practitioners, community groups and policy makers.
Robertson was co-leader of
the multidisciplinary conference that was the culmination of this network.
The conference combined
academic papers, musical performance, readings and drama in order to draw
in the widest
possible audience, alongside the art exhibition `Wateryscapes' that ran
immediately before and
during the conference. Gloucester Guildhall suggests that 13,503 people
visited the venue during
the period of the exhibition. The conference was reported by Heart FM and
interviewed for their mid-morning show. One arts collective involved in
all aspects of the network
output was Walking the Land. This resulted in important new work and
Robertson which, according to the principle artists, `was catalytic and
continues to influence the
way we make work'. Further, Robertson's `input during 2012/13 has had an
impact on our ongoing
work with others, for example in a project called "River" which continues
to look at community
resilience and challenge ideas of landscape, or "taskscape" to use Iain's
term. ... For us and those
that we work with, it was a very fruitful collaboration'.
Robertson's current project returns to questions of land, identity and
heritage in the Scottish
Highlands. Working in informal partnership (confirmed at Board level) with
the North Harris Trust
and other community organisations, this began with student-led field
recordings, which, according
to the Trust, had benefits similar to those described by Randall above.
project partners and a long-standing Highlands resident working as a
Assistant, have moved to create a digital archive which will be lodged
with various local history
groups (also involved with the data collection). According to the North
Harris Trust's Development
Manager, this project matches well with their `cultural heritage
objectives', with outcomes of
significance and value `to this community'. Indicative of this is the fact
that Robertson has given a
paper summarising the research to the annual conference of the Islands
Book Trust, which is
explicitly aimed at both the academic and non-academic communities, and he
has published a
summary of the paper in the winter 2013 edition of the island's local
historical society newsletter.
As articulated by the North Harris Trust's Development Manager, `Every
family here has
relationships and links with descendants of those who have had to emigrate
from the islands for
whatever reason and I am certain that the research will be of great
interest to them'.
Sources to corroborate the impact
`Learning to live with water' final report: Learning
to live with water
Blog from workshop participant: http://ruscombegreen.blogspot.com/2010/11/living-flood-histories-great-day.html
Land and Identity in the Scottish Highlands references: