Ghosts from the past: The value of tangible and intangible cultural heritage to the present and future

In November 2017, Hilali partner Prof Peter Stone OBE, was a keynote speaker at an event on technology and cultural heritage which took place at our Institutional Link, the City for Scientific Research and Technological Applications – Alexandria, Egypt.


Prof Stone’s talk focused on the value of tangible and intangible cultural heritage to the present and future. He explored ideas around our links to -memories of- the past and how these memories are frequently not our own direct memories but rather those of our family or community; through which we are linked to a past longer than own personal lives.


“Some links are even longer” he shared “unlocked only by a study of the past through history or archaeology. Many such memories are frequently related to tangible and intangible cultural heritage. They situate us not only within family and community but provide the context of our contemporary lives and how we relate to each other. Just as our own memories are both positive and negative, important or irrelevant, so such community memories are both positive and negative. Our memories may at times clash with, or contradict, memories of the same events held by others. How we as individuals and communities interact with and use these memories has a potentially massive impact on how our community functions. ‘Bad’ memories can have a negative impact on how an individual -and a community- functions and what they aspire to achieve”


A key question he posed was this:  Do we learn from these memories, our version of the past,  and how do we deal with some of the negative memories, perhaps as a burden that needs to be addressed, atoned for, in the present?

One observation he offered is that it is impossible to ignore the past; how we interact with it establishes how we live in the present and begin to shape the future.


As part of the event Prof Stone attended a workshop that included a discussion on the future of the Hilali project. He stressed that any developments need to take into account four key questions: Who is interested in the project – and why? Who owns the data under discussion? Who controls that data? Who will benefit from a developed, extended project? These are very pertinent questions the Hilali Network will be critically engaging with in its next phases.


Prof Stone advises on the development of collaborative and multi-organisational approaches to working with and across local communities in cultural heritage education in the Hillai Network. Our recent Hilali Summer School, based around working with working with the Bedouin community in Egypt, was very much informed by his ongoing work around participatory approaches to working with communities.


Next month, we’ll hear more from Dr Sam Elkington’s experiences of sharing ideas on flexible learning in Egypt.


The Hilali partners’ participation in Egypt was funded by The Newton Fund, part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, whose primary focus is to develop partner countries research and innovation capacity for longterm sustainable growth.