Teaching Heritage Collaborative
The Teaching Heritage Collaborative intends to create the curricular structure for the next generation of students to learn from the material and symbolic objects of history and to discover and promote their meaning to present communities.
Conveners Katherine Hayes, Gregory Donofrio, Phyllis Messenger, and Anduin Wilhide
The past needs preserving because it is meaningful to individuals and communities in the present. This is one of the core values of the Teaching Heritage Collaborative, which aims to create the infrastructure for a graduate and undergraduate curriculum in Heritage Studies at the University of Minnesota.
“Heritage Studies combines the study and preservation of material and immaterial aspects of the past with an understanding of their value for contemporary populations. These aspects include the built environment, architecture, the way that memory is embedded in landscape in natural forms as well as the way it’s reshaped, archaeological resources, sites, and artifacts, cultural traditions, language, archives, and more. It’s not just the study of the past; it’s the study of how the past is significant in the present,” says Katherine Hayes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, and one of four conveners of the Collaborative.
There are few, if any, programs in the nation dedicated to teaching students in this emerging, interdisciplinary field that crosses history, architecture, anthropology, and other disciplines, explain the conveners. While there are offered courses in various departments and colleges at the University of Minnesota that relate to the subject matter of Heritage Studies, the Collaborative hopes to forge a uniquely carved out space to house the discipline with a rigorous curriculum of study, to bring students together, and to develop training experiences for students to practice heritage management and preservation at field sites. If the Collaborative is able to develop a Heritage Studies program at the University, it may be one of the first such programs in the nation.
Gregory Donofrio, a professor in the School of Architecture and a former IAS Fellow, says that there are many reasons why Heritage Studies is a worthwhile discipline of study. “Heritage matters to communities, and so if students want to work in a field that is meaningful to communities, that strikes me as important,” he says. Donofrio notes the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment—the Minnesota voter-approved ballot initiative that has, since 2009, provided financial support to strengthen and protect the state’s arts, natural resources, and cultural resources—as a testament of the public’s interest to preserve the state’s cultural history.
There are also good job opportunities in the field, adds Donofrio, such as work with museums, historic buildings, community restoration efforts, and archaeological digs. “Many of the core concepts and methodologies that we teach and learn about are broadly applicable to many different contexts. Students trained in heritage studies, for instance, may be surprisingly well-equipped for work in a post-disaster context because communities struck by disaster often want to talk about what they valued about the past of their place and what they hope to recreate as they rebuild, and that is fundamentally a question about heritage,” says Donofrio.
As part of the demanding process of curricular development, the conveners have been speaking with non-academic organizations that may eventually participate in internship or work arrangements with students learning the field. “We recognize that students need practical experience in heritage management and preservation. They need a wide array of skills, experiences, and expertise to be successful, whether they are working for the Minnesota Historical Society, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, or various other organizations,” says Phyllis Messenger, a scholar in heritage management and a grants consultant at the IAS.
Given the nature of the field, a successful Heritage Studies program would need to balance classroom learning and peer interaction with on-site training, says Hayes. “An essential component of heritage is what communities do with it, so we need to bring students to the communities, as well as bring the communities into the whole process. We’re trying to build a program for students to get that real-world experience, while bringing them in contact with the public and with other professionals.”
The state of Minnesota has a range of rich natural, cultural, historical and social resources for students to learn with and from, making it an excellent ground for classroom study and fieldwork, say the conveners. The tension surrounding Fort Snelling and its location on sacred Dakota Territory, for instance, is a recent and local example of heritage-related work, says Hayes. “These are the kinds of sites and historic events where it matters very much to people now, and we can think of many, many locations in the world where the same thing is true,” says Hayes.
Teaching Heritage grew out of the Locating Heritage Collaborative, which aimed to find University member and affiliates across disciplines involved in heritage studies to bring them together for discussions about the field. Now the Collaborative has focused its attention primarily on curriculum development, teaching, and pedagogy. Drawing on their different trainings and academic backgrounds—Hayes is trained in historical archaeology, anthropology, and history; Donofrio is trained in historic preservation and city and regional planning; Messenger is trained in anthropology, public archaeology, and heritage education; and their co-convener Andy Wilhide’s focus is in public history—the conveners hope to use their expertise to collaborate across colleges and to share curricular ideas.
“An IAS collaborative such as ours is a place where faculty, staff, students, and community partners can work together without worrying about institutional barriers. We’re really excited to have so many colleagues from around the University as well from other organizations in the state working with us,” says Messenger.
“The IAS is a very fertile institute for breeding this kind of collaboration,” adds Hayes. “Its reputation precedes itself.”