Collecting Diversity for Heritage Futures

Tuesday 16 October 2018, 5.30PM

Speaker(s): Sefryn Penrose and Esther Breithoff

Our urge to preserve for future generations things that humans consider to be under direct or indirect ‘threat’ has a long tradition in the context of both ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ heritage practices. The imposing image of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a repository for the world's crop seed varieties, has become a signifier of both hope and horror with regards to the idea of future environmental security. The apocalyptic message conveyed by the Frozen Ark, a UK-based ‘frozen zoo’ aiming to preserve the DNA of endangered animal species, is both clear and urgent: in the face of anthropogenic ecological loss, the collecting, storing and managing of biological material from endangered species might be the only chance for humanity and the species with which we co-habit the planet. Similarly, the muteness of the last speakers of dying languages might be said to encourage garrulity on the subject of loss, stunned silence with regards to the specificity of this loss, and paralysis in the face of what a process of saving might be beyond databanking. In this talk we will introduce the concept of Diversity and its safeguarding within the context of biological, cultural, genetic, and linguistic ex situ conservation practices. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken with a number of partner organisations as part of the AHRC-funded Heritage Futures project, we will explore a range of domains concerned with practices of categorisation, preservation and management of different forms of diversity in comparative perspective, and their role in producing new ecological, social and economic realities. We suggest that exploring diversity conservation comparatively has the potential to inform both practitioners and publics about the divergent and sometimes conflicting futures which each field of practice is engaged in producing on behalf of humanity.

Location: K/159

Admission: Free