"Living (World) Heritage Cities explores how World Heritage Cities are dealing with the preservation of their living heritage, with all the challenges and opportunities encountered"

MaaikeSince 2021, Dr. Maaike de Waal is working as assistant professor and head of the Field Research Education Centre of the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University. Her research focuses on Landscape Archaeology, Prospective Archaeology, Predictive Mapping and Archaeological Heritage Management and Protection. Maaike is also an active member of the Heritage & Environment track of the Centre for Global Heritage and Development.

In December 2022, the book Living (World) Heritage Cities, edited by Maaike S. de Waal, Ilaria Rosetti, Mara de Groot and Uditha Jinadasa, has been published by Sidestone Press.

What is central to your research interest and why did you choose to join the LDE Heritage & Environment Track?

My research focuses on humans and their environment, both in the past as well as in the present, how humans make choices to use and perceive the landscape and find places to live in it. It also revolves around what has happened (or is happening) in it that has affected site survival and determines our possibilities to do research. I am interested in seeing how the landscape affects people and, of course, heritage. Furthermore, in the case of World Heritage sites, natural influences also have an impact on site survival and conservation.

I became part of the LDE Heritage and Environment Track because of my focus on landscape archaeology. I also closely follow the endeavours of the others tracks, as these also have my interest, but I had to choose.

You have ample experience in the Caribbean in doing archaeological research and fieldwork. Did your experience inspire you to make a book on World Heritage Cities? What is the book about centrally?

I lived in the Caribbean for two years, from 2008 to 2010, since I worked as a lecturer in archaeology at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. During that period, I became well-acquainted with the historic city centre of Bridgetown. After Historic Bridgetown and the Garrison was inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 2011, I often visited it when I was in Barbados for fieldwork. It is a lovely and vibrant city.

I would say that this experience in the Caribbean contributed only indirectly to the concept of the book World Heritage Cities. The true inspiration for the book came with the creation of the Honours Class “LDE Living (World) Heritage Cities” by Mara de Groot in 2017. I coordinated and co-lectured this course, which also had guest lecturers from Eindhoven, Delft, Leiden and Amsterdam, representing many different disciplines. The participating students also came from different faculties. The course, which was held at the Faculty of Archaeology of the University, ran between 2017 and 2020.

The idea behind the course was to explore the concept of “living heritage”. At times, the desire to assign World Heritage status to living cities may overshadow the awareness of the implications this would have for the city and its inhabitants. In this Honours Class, we aimed to shed some light on the challenges and issues faced by the World Heritage Cities by combining insights and research methods from the social sciences, archaeology, geography, but also from planning and design. The intrinsic interdisciplinarity of this class contributed enormously to its success. It was inspirational for me to teach such a diverse group of students who provided an excellent ground for discussions and fresh, new insights. Following this class, these themes gained momentum, also internationally, and were discussed during the 2019 conference session at the EAA, the European Association of Archaeologists. I organized this session with Mara de Groot, Ilaria Rosetti and Uditha Jinadasa. After this successful session, we decided to compile an edited volume with contributions on all these international topics. Subsequently, LDE organized a seminar on ‘Heritage Impact Assessment in Historic Urban Landscape Approach’, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, and we put out an open call for contributions on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our living (world) heritage cities. All these elements generated, over a period of time, the core idea of our book Living (World) Heritage Cities, which explores how WH cities are dealing with the preservation of their living heritage, with all the challenges and opportunities encountered.

The book is about (World) Heritage in cities. These cities are used, developed, redeveloped, and lived. This is an interesting but complex situation. They have to find ways to be able to live, enjoy, manage and protect this heritage, and to allow dynamic lifeways and urban developments at the same time. Heritage in cities often includes complexly layered histories: heritage perceptions may differ in different time periods, and not all heritage is equally important to all people. The volume presents cases from different geographical areas and interdisciplinary perspectives with examples of best practices from all over the world. Our book also has a section on the effect of COVID-19 on Living (World) Heritage Cities. Everyone remembers images of world cities and top tourist attractions with empty streets. The impact on the heritage sector has been massive, and the sector has worked on finding new ways to present heritage to the public and to find means to continue to exist.

"My research focuses on humans and their environment, both in the past as well as in the present, how humans make choices to use and perceive the landscape and find places to live in it"

Issues of WH are a global phenomenon, but are dealt with locally in different manners. In 2011, UNESCO recognized Historic Bridgetown and Its Garrison, Barbados as World Heritage Site. In one of the chapters of the book, you investigated the expectation that site conservation would improve. What are your conclusions about this?

The nomination of Historic Bridgetown and Its Garrison as WH site came with a wide range of expectations about positive effects for the site as well for the country. The expectation that site conservation would improve is often implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) mentioned when a site or a city is recognized to be a WHS. On the other hand, others questioned whether gaining this status would create a financial burden for a small nation like Barbados. This ongoing debate tickled my curiosity as I could appreciate both benefits and disadvantages of the WH status. So I decided to investigate if the site conservation has improved, over the course of ten years, by carrying out a literature analysis including information in newspapers and social media.

My conclusion is that, even though there are quite a few successes in restauration and site conservation, many sites in Historic Bridgetown have faced alterations, continuous decay, damage, or even destruction. A problematic aspect is that the WH status comes with obligations with respect to site conservation. This is a costly endeavour, and the WH status alone does not automatically make money flow.

My paper indicates that, despite the increasing public awareness on conservation, conserving the monuments in a living heritage city remains a challenge. The status of WH city also comes with obligations to ensure the sites are well-maintained and conserved; governments need to set proper regulations to ensure the site is protected. And while there are often expectations that such a nomination may generate income and employment, this is not always the case. It is up to the local institutions to ensure sufficient financial support to maintain that World Heritage Site.

You are also head of the Field Research Education Unit at FdA, and as such responsible for the field schools and internships of this faculty and for some of the courses for the Master Applied Archaeology. Applied archaeology offers students besides an introduction to cutting-edge technologies, a broad perspective on excavations. What is the archaeologist of the future like, in your view? What skills should he or she have?

Good question! Considering all the rapid changes we are witnessing in terms of climate, population pressure and speeding growth, the archaeologist of the future will have a demanding role. As development continues at an ever-increasing pace, archaeologists will need to find balanced, new ways to research, manage and protect heritage as much as possible, with the least destruction. He/she will need to be able to investigate and prevent information from being lost, while also playing a more active role in conservation. I also believe a good set of communication skills will be essential when dealing with governments but also when involving local communities. Archaeology is an expensive science, if you consider all the costs of fieldwork and post-field analysis, hence, I believe, it is fundamental to communicate effectively and to clearly explain to the various stakeholders the relevance and the value of a certain project. This is paramount, in particular, when dealing with painful or dissonant heritage. We will be asking a lot from future generations of archaeologists.

How do you benefit from the Centre’s network and what are your future plans (with the Centre)?

The LDE Centre for Global Heritage and Development has an extensive network of researchers, among the three universities, who work in different yet linked fields. Mara de Groot, the Managing Director of the Centre, has been of tremendous help in connecting me to the other Centre’s members. It is inspiring to know more about other scholars’ research work and topics, which can be different but are also often interconnected.

In addition, as mentioned earlier, the Centre has been supportive in creating and partially teaching the Honours Class ‘Living (World) Heritage Cities’ and in developing our EAA session and the publication.

At present, I am working with Dr. Rients de Boer, Karin Stadhouders MA and Dr. Gerdy Verschuure-Stuip, on a proposal for a NIAS-Lorentz workshop on Landscape Biography. We believe that our workshop could fit nicely into the NIAS-Lorentz vision and interdisciplinary approach, which brings together perspectives from the humanities and social sciences with the natural and technological sciences, and that the international research community could benefit from our project. Besides this, I’m currently working on setting up a new project in order to find answers to the many questions that arose while doing research on Historic Bridgetown for the publication, together with the University of the West Indies.

NIAS-Lorentz Workshop on Landscape Biography - What is this workshop all about?

We are currently working on a proposal for a NIAS-Lorentz Workshop on Landscape Biography. The Landscape Biography has been developed in the Netherlands by Jan Kolen (Leiden University), Hans Renes (Emeritus Utrecht University) and Theo Spek (Groningen University) since the 1990s as a tool to study how the landscape was shaped by continuous people-environment interactions.

This workshop, which is a joint LDE-endeavor, strives to re-evaluate the Landscape Biography approach by exploring relevant new themes and fields of interest, in the Netherlands and abroad, by looking at innovative research methodologies in the context of research themes that relate to current and future societal challenges (e.g. climate change, population pressure and agricultural developments). We believe that this approach could be employed internationally to deal with some of these issues. We are hoping that this workshop will be a practical guide to new approaches in landscape biography.

(interview and text by Elena Fazio)


More information
Link to publication Living (World) Heritage Cities (SIDESTONE PRESS)