North West Migrants Forum

Symposium to explore ‘Critical Heritage, Activism and Social Change’

ULSTER University is to host an international interdisciplinary symposium and subsequent policy-focused roundtable on critical heritage, activism, and social change.

The symposium takes place in the Level Three Atrium, Belfast campus, on January 19. The event runs from 9.30am to 5.30pm.

Heritage is about the production and construction of knowledge in the present about the past, it is a social process.

What is notable about the current ‘Authorised Heritage Discourse’ (AHD) is the absence of marginalised or disempowered groups in the co-creation of heritage initiatives. They are rarely, if ever, involved as collaboration-leads in their co-design, implementation, and monitoring. The AHD embodies assumptions about what heritage is and how it should be understood. Moreover, museums and/or official state memorial processes have often failed to adequately reckon with difficult or ‘dark’ subjects in the recent past.

The symposium will critique the AHD and examine whose knowledge is prioritised, who are the experts and who decides. The event is timely as several regions grappling with imminent policies on memorialisation of state and/or institutional violence.

The event is sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Among the speakers will be Michelle Charters, the new head of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. (Photo source: National Museums Liverpool)

The symposium will have three interlocking strands:

Memorialising historical institutional abuse (HIA); multicultural and intercultural heritages and heritage after the NI conflict.

It will generate critical thinking, learning and dialogue by exploring first-hand experiences and expertise from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Australia, and Canada, drawing out tangible lessons and best practice. Examples of bottom-up participatory co-created heritage projects will be showcased from grassroots local, national and international case studies.

It will bring together stakeholders and beneficiaries including victim-survivors, academics, museum professionals, advocacy NGOs, memory activists, heritage organisations, and practitioners and policymakers to explore participatory co-design approaches to heritage and new ways to embrace multiple voices about difficult subjects. It will consider the potential this approach has to create spaces and unlock transformative dynamics that empower disempowered groups, generate senses of ownership and create pathways to justice and social change.

Organising Committee: Dr Philip McDermott, Professor Patricia Lundy, Dr Niall Gilmartin (Sociology) and Professor Elizabeth Crooke (Museum and Heritage Studies)

Main photo: The Peace Wall between the Shankill and the Falls. Source: Wikipedia/Robin Kirk (Flickr)

Draft programme and registration information here:,-activism,-and-social-change-participatory-approaches-in-addressing-difficult-pasts