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Hans Peter Hahn


Hans Peter Hahn is Professor of Anthropology with special focus on Africa at Goethe University of Frankfurt /M. His research interests are oriented towards material culture, consumption and the impact of globalization on non-western societies. He edited a book on “Ethnologie und Weltkulturenmuseum” (Vergangenheitsverlag, Berlin 2017), focussing on the history of museums with ethnographic collections. He is principal investigator in a research programme on virtual interfaces on museum collections (2017-2020), where the perception of things in their digital representation is under study. Until recently, he was speaker of the research training group “Value and Equivalency” at Goethe-University. In this context, he participated in the organization of several exhibitions on human action and materiality. Other ongoing research initiatives are linked with polysemic approaches to material culture studies. HP Hahn’s recent publications include an edited volumes entitled “Obstinacy of Things” (Neofelis 2015) and “Things as a challenge “(transcript 2018).


The Heritage Curse. Ambivalencies of Heritagization

The ‘resource curse’ is a well-established technical term in economics. It refers to the observation that in many countries of the world, tensions and even civil wars occur in the years following the discovery and exploitation of natural minerals or other raw materials. The struggle for the just distribution of additional income enforces a reorganization of social and spatial structures. This specific situation is similar with the “curse” of cultural heritage: the declaration of a certain heritage as regional or national ‘cultural heritage’ is often followed by conflicts regarding responsibility and access to the connected income opportunities.

Even if these disputes relate to significantly smaller economic issues, they are often conducted with particular harshness because the people and institutions involved are fighting over phenomena, considered by themselves as part of their collective identity. Thus, in the context of the process of cultural heritagization, those affected often feel much at unease, because the cultural heritage initially attributed to them takes on new meanings and thus also new links of belonging.

There are important lessons to be learned from this ambivalence for the concept of cultural heritage: in the process of heritagization, we do not just address questions of saving something that has not yet received sufficient care and recognition, nor is it just a question of material preservation. Cultural heritage is much more to be understood as a process of transformation in which many, sometimes problematic, connotations and contexts emerge or come to the fore. The presentation will illustrate this with some examples and discuss related approaches in order to systematically understand the transformation in the context of heritagization that might engender unease and feelings of being alienated among the initial holders of the heritage.


Engmann, Rachel A. A. (2022): Contested Heritage and Absent Objects: Archaeological Representation at Ghana’s Forts and Castles. In: Stevenson, A. (Hg.): The Oxford Handbook of Museum Archaeology. Osford: Oxford Univ., S. 197-220.

Gravari-Barbas, Maria (2021): Tenements in New York and Riads in Marrakesh. Mobilities and the New Paradigm of Heritagization. In: Hybrid Mobilities.

Haldrup, Michael und J.O. Boerenholdt (2015): Heritage as Performance. In: Waterton, E. & S. Watson (ed.): The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research. London: Palgrave Macmillan, S. 52-68.

Kaltmeier, Olaf (2017): On the advantage and disadvantage of heritage for Latin America. Heritage politics and nostalgia between coloniality and indigeneity. In: Kaltmeier, Olaf & Mario Rufer (ed.) (2017): Entangled Heritages. Postcolonial Perspectives on the Uses of the Past in Latin America. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Schorch, Philipp (2014): Cultural Feelings and the Making of Meaning . In: International Journal of Heritage Studies , 20 (1):22-35.

Witcomb, Andrea und Kristal Buckley (2013): Engaging with the Future of ‘Critical Heritage Studies’: looking back in order to look forward. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19 (6):562-578.



Discussing Critical Heritage Studies and the Responsibility of the Researcher for Contextualizing his/her Findings

Without question, the concern of every archaeologist is to identify cultures of the past, to find and determine material objects as evidence of them, and last but not least to draw attention to the importance and value of archaeological sites. In a sentence: the creation of new cultural heritage sites is an inherent part of the archaeological profession. Against this background, far too little thought is given to the consequences of this for future cultural policy and the development of collective identities in the region concerned.

Thus, if archaeology in principle is always concerned with creating the value of monuments and objects of the past, the question must also be asked: Cui Bono? Who benefits from it, and what obligations arise from it? The generally often expressed notion that public appreciation should be articulated in the region concerned is only partially true. Starting from a concept of the ‘value-in-things’ that places “contexts” in the core of value generation, it is crucial to ask about the consequences of specific ‘contextualizations’. Archaeologists define contexts; they expect that, via highlighting meaningful connections, the ‘value of a thing’ will be recognized.

Belonging, identification and the public recognition of value are closely linked popular notions and practices. But do they also correspond to the characteristics of the found objects and deposits? To what extent can the archaeologist accept that appropriation takes place in the public sphere, which at the same time involves simplification but also the acceptance of responsibility? Critical Heritage Studies focus on precisely these questions: it is about the problems of generating value and about the options of revaluation and devaluation, should it become clear that biased or unbalanced appropriations lead to an unacceptable image of a finding or an archaeological culture.