Museums have the potential to change lives and strengthen communities. In recent years, it seems the interest in this part of their brief (“in the service of society”) and the evidence for it has increased, with many discussions and books dedicated to this topic. The new book Heritage and peacebuilding, which brings together essays from many of the field’s leading thinkers and practitioners, looks at the relation between cultural heritage, museums and – according to contributor Peter van Dungen – one of humanity’s oldest and most lofty goals: world peace. In the words of the editors, and my experience after reading it, it is a hopeful book, full of case studies and examples of how heritage can contribute to peacebuilding.
In order not to bury the lead: Cultural heritage and museums can contribute to peacebuilding. Throughout the book, cases ranging from Kenya to Israel and from the Western Balkans to Northern Ireland show the role cultural heritage institutions and professionals can play in peacebuilding. And should play. As Diana Walters writes, peace is too large a topic to be left to official peace makers such as UNESCO, ICOM, and Cultural Councils. Museums, being used to dealing with slippery subjects, may take on enhancing the conditions for peace as one of their purposes.
Many authors show how this role can even occur in conflict situations. Sultan Somjee explains that even during conflicts, there exist pockets in society that maintain their heritage of peacebuilding. We need to strengthen these pockets and individuals. Timothy Gachanga gives examples of communities in Kenya that have continued to use heritage for peacebuilding and conflict transformation, even in moments of turmoil.Read More »