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Emma Waterton
Leverhulme International Professor & Director of the Heritage for Global Challenges Research Centre



Emma Waterton is a Leverhulme International Professor in the Department of Archaeology, where she directs the Heritage for Global Challenges Research Centre. Emma’s research is located primarily in the fields of heritage studies and cultural geography, where she works to challenge the systems, structures and institutions of power that continue to shape heritage, both in the UK and internationally. She is particularly interested in the following: the interface between heritage, identity, memory and affect; ​​anti-colonial politics and alternatives to the logics of colonialism; migrant heritage-making and social inclusion; community engagements with our past/s; and climate justice in the Anthropocene. 

Emma was first introduced to the broad field of heritage at the University of Queensland, Australia, graduating with a double Anthropology major in 1999. It was there that she learnt about the importance of cultural rights, the politics of place and power, and issues of social justice. After working and travelling for a few years, Emma settled in York in order to complete her Master of Arts in Archaeological Heritage Management (awarded in 2004) and her PhD in Heritage Studies (awarded in March 2008). Both were underpinned by an interest in counter-colonial and non-Western thinking, leading to a critique of the one-dimensional and sanitised construction of heritage found in UK policy. Both studies agitated for a more nuanced, expansive and ethically sound practice of defining ‘the past’.

Following her PhD, Emma held academic appointments in the UK and Australia. In 2006 she was awarded a RCUK Academic Fellowship in Heritage and Public History at Keele University, which she held until 2010, at which time she returned to Australia to take up a lectureship in the School of Social Sciences at Western Sydney University (WSU). During her time at WSU she held various governance roles, including Academic Group Leader for Heritage and Tourism, Director of Academic Programs for Geography, Tourism and Planning, and Associate Dean (Research) for the School of Social Sciences. Her engagements with a diversity of researchers while at WSU saw her own work expand to include an interest in the analytical shifts animating cultural tourism and political geography, which she has adapted and translated into the field of heritage studies. These shifts include the turn to affect, a return to materialities, emotional geographies, and theories of more-than-human worlds.

Emma is currently Editor-in-Chief of the journal Landscape Research, and is on the Editorial Board for the International Journal of Heritage Studies and the Journal of Heritage Tourism. She is a Trustee of the Landscape Research Group, a former Council Member, Treasurer and Vice-President of the Geographical Society of New South Wales, and a founding Executive Committee Member of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies. 

She returned to York to join the Department of Archaeology in August 2022.



Emma’s research brings critical attention to how heritage is governed and understood. Rather than accept conventional understandings, she interrogates accepted histories, discourses and structures, as well as prevailing theoretical presumptions, in order to make space for new ways of thinking about, using and caring for heritage to emerge. She is particularly interested in the changing practices of heritage users, visitors, managers and practitioners, along with the institutions that bring them together, all of which she studies in order to re-theorise the meaning of heritage and the ‘work’ it does in contemporary society. 

Her research is organised into four interconnected areas: (1) unpacking the complex set of relations that constitute the discourse of heritage and its erasures; (2) understanding heritage encounters via the application of affect theory; (3) engaging in experimental approaches to data capture; and (4) critically exploring the intersection between heritage and society, particularly with regard to community engagement.

(1): The discourse of heritage and its erasures: A core contribution of Emma’s work in this area has been her articulations of heritage ‘as discourse’, drawing on critical realism and the well-established underpinnings of critical discourse analysis. Arguing for an understanding of heritage ‘as discourse’, she has systematically exposed a range of inadequacies and exclusions in the way heritage is understood and managed at the policy level. 

(2) Heritage encounters and theories of affect: In collaboration with Professor Steve Watson, Emma has been a key voice in the vibrant area of debate that examines the affective and emotional consequences of heritage. Together, they have provided a thorough analysis of the contribution theories of affect, particularly non- and more-than-representational thinking, can make to our understanding of heritage, pushing debate towards unpacking not only what heritage might mean but what it does and what responses it provokes

(3) Experimental approaches: Largely focused on qualitative methods, Emma has made several methodological contributions to her field via the use of critical discourse analysis, Q-methodology, visual analysis, photo-elicitation, multispecies ethnography, autoethnography, and more-than-representational approaches, all of which she has deployed in conjunction with traditional methods such as in-depth interviewing, social surveys and focus groups. 

(4) The intersection between heritage and society: Much of Emma’s research has challenged the dominant, yet simplistic, idea of heritage found in national and international policy, with a view to imagining a more nuanced, just and sustainable understanding of heritage. This has prompted her to conduct research that focuses on community engagement, everyday life, multiculturalism, disasters, more-than-human heritage and issues relating to social justice in a range of contexts, including the UK, Australia, the USA, Spain, Nepal and Mongolia.


Heritage-Making in the Parramatta LGA, Australia

Funded by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Scheme and led by Professor Denis Bryne, this project aims to elucidate how recent migrants experience and interact with existing heritage places in Parramatta (Australia) and how they generate heritage places and attachments of their own. It aims to narrow the current gap between the majority migrant population and the heritage of such urban areas. Capitalising on heritage-making theory, the project will advance knowledge, policy and practice by generating a new approach to the inclusion of migrants in the public field of heritage. It will enable heritage managers to build programs and policies to achieve this inclusion and familiarise recent migrants with the language and mechanism of heritage and assist them in sourcing funds for heritage recording and conservation.

Leverhulme International Professorship

The following projects are connected to Emma’s Leverhulme International Professorship and are associated with the Heritage for Global Challenges Research Centre, which revolves around six interrelated and transdisciplinary research ‘axes’:

Engineering Memory: A Transnational Heritage of the British Empire (Axis 2)

A renewal of public and political interest in British colonial heritage illustrates the pressing need to better understand that history and the ways in which it is navigated, mobilised, and repurposed. With a focus on eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites that memorialise the British Empire, this project engages in global comparisons about how such sites are received and understood by professionals, visitors, and their host communities. Mobilising a suite of qualitative methods that create novel opportunities for public engagement, it explores the curatorial and affective techniques through which British colonial heritage is engineered, as well as providing valuable insight on its reception in a variety of contexts. Rather than focus on narrative or static representations of the past, such explorations will enable conceptual innovation through an emphasis on affective heritage. They will also contribute to UNESCO’s aim of producing a more transnational notion of heritage. This project is a collaboration with Professor Jason Dittmer at UCL.

Langtang Heritage Trail (Axis 5)

Led by Dr Hayley Saul and supported by a successful program of crowd-sourced funding following the 2015 earthquakes (over £100,000), this project focuses on the Langtang Valley in the Himalayas northwest of Kathmandu, Nepal. It adopts Participatory Action Research (collaborating with local communities, colleagues at WSU and NGOs) and focuses on the construction of, and engagements with, a heritage trail developed in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. The project is informed by ongoing debates that centre on community heritage and processes of inclusion, and is interested in how community constructions of heritage articulate (or not) with dominant/Western notions of the past. Ultimately, it seeks to examine how heritage is encountered and represented in practice at local levels. A key outcome of this work has been the construction of the Langtang Heritage Trail, which was conceived and built in collaboration with the local community.


Previous Projects

Co-Investigator, Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics (ARC Discovery Grant)

Sole-Investigator, Photos of the Past: The Negotiation of Identity and Belonging at Australian Tourism Sites (ARC Discovery Early Career Research Grant)

Co-Investigator, Everyday Geopolitics: Nationalist Subjectivities and ANZAC Thanatourism (UWS IRIS Grant)

Sole-Investigator, Memorialisation and Affect: Remembering Pearl Harbour (UWS Early Career Research Grant)

Sole-Investigator, Overcoming Obsolescence? Museums, Heritage and Identity in the Potteries (British Academy Small Grant)

Co-Investigator, Landscapes of In/Justice at the Port Arthur Historic Site (LRG Anniversary Award)


Emma welcomes applications from PhD candidates in the following areas:

  • Heritage and social justice
  • Heritage, emotion and affect
  • Heritage, place, identity
  • Commemoration and the politics of memory
  • Heritage tourism
  • Heritage representations
  • Cultural landscapes
  • Migrant heritage
  • Heritage and the politics of exclusion
  • More-than-human heritage
  • Heritage and deindustrialisation


Current PhD students:

  • Vanica Arora, Reframing Reconstruction: Trajectories of Built Heritage in Bhaktapur, Nepal after the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake
  • Vanessa Whittington, Authenticities, Deficits, ‘Transformations’: Visitor Responses to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Australian Protected Areas
  • Michelle Whitmore, The Power of Imagination: Lessons on Waste Management from the Walt Disney Company for Application Across the Travel and Tourism Industry
  • Michelle Thomas, At the Sea’s Edge: Inclusion and Exclusion through Fisherfolk Heritage
  • Sreelakshmi Subramanian, Infrastructures of Colonial Circulations 

Completed PhD students:

  • Clinton Johnston, Cosmopolitan Nationalism in Australian Social History Museums: Assembling Histories, Negotiating the Past
  • Utsab Bhattarai, Resilience Building: A Study of Livelihood Management Practices of the Sherpa People in the Khumbu (Everest) Region, Nepal
  • Josephine Wong, An Exploration Of The Relationship Between A Semi-Structured Intervention And The Therapeutic Relationship In Art Therapy With Traumatized Children
  • Christiane Kuhling, Rewriting Tourist Photography
  • Jenny Hall, Women Mountaineers: A Study of Affect, Sensoria and Emotion
  • Alanna Kamp, 'Invisible Australians': Chinese Australian Women's Experiences of Belonging and Exclusion in the White Australia Policy Era, 1901 - 1973

Contact details

Professor Emma Waterton
Department of Archaeology,
University of York
Kings Manor,
Exhibition Square,

External activities


Trustee, Landscape Research Group

Fellow, Royal Geographical Society

Steering Committee Member, Heritage and Arts Visitor Research Collaborative (HAVRC)

Member, HOME Commission (Scientific Commission of UISPP)

Member, Geographical Society of New South Wales

Member, Association of Critical Heritage Studies


Steering Committee Membership

Relics of Nature: An Archaeology of Natural Heritage in the High North (Norwegian Research Council, PI Þóra Pétursdóttir)



Visiting Fellow, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), 2020

Visiting Fellow, York St John University, 2016-2018

Editorial duties

Editor-in-Chief, Landscape Research

Book Series Editor (with Professor Divya Tolia-Kelly), Critical Studies in Heritage, Emotion and Affect (Routledge)

Editorial Board Member, International Journal of Heritage Studies 

Editorial Board Member, Journal of Heritage Tourism