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 endeavours? 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?

The workshop is a joint endeavour of the Excellence Cluster Topoi, 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.

Workshop Review