Project 4 – A Future for Diverse Caribbean Heritages

Formerly directed by the late Prof. dr. Willem J. H. Willems, currently by Prof. Corinne L. Hofman


Project 4 addresses the views on and uses of the Caribbean past as cultural heritage in the present. This project aims to construct inclusive participatory policies, connecting cultural continuity of indigenous heritage with the interaction dynamics of present-day, multi-ethnic Caribbean society while creating sustainable heritage policies regarding immediate human and natural threats to the archaeological record. Three subprojects will deal with (1) practical tools for heritage management: legislation and documentation, (2) the relationship between communities and museum collections, and (3) the engagement of communities through outreach and collaboration.

Managing the Past: Dealing with Heritage in a Caribbean Context

This subproject investigates the impact of culture contact on perceptions of heritage and legislation in the Caribbean. Caribbean heritage policies reveal a complex background along the lines of former European powers, with their legal traditions applied in various geopolitical contexts: French, Spanish, Dutch, and English. The impact of colonialism on heritage practices in the Caribbean can potentially lead to unintended mechanisms of social exclusion, because current policies and practices, as in other parts of the world, are often based on western heritage discourses. This subproject will produce an in-depth analysis of the situation. Diverse geopolitical, historical, and contemporary frameworks of national heritage policies and discourses will be compared in order to identify common issues in policy/enforcement and better integrate policies on local and regional levels through best practices and capacity building. Specific attention is given to issues of cultural ownership and identity of Caribbean communities.

Power of the Past: Communities and Museums

This subproject analyses the relationships between museum objects and communities, considering museums as places of encounter, sharing, and heritage formation. Caribbean artefacts can potentially generate scholarly and societal debate on histories of cultural encounters, indigenous heritage, and new identity formations. Caribbean artefacts are housed in a variety of collections, ranging from private holdings to major museums in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world, resulting in differential access to heritage for the general public. Although there exists a wealth of scientific literature on Caribbean pre-colonial culture and heritage, museum catalogues focus primarily on art and aesthetics often ignoring historical connections and their political and social potential to address heritage formation within the Caribbean. The nature and condition of museums and collections with regard to their role in community education, artefact conservation, and raising historical awareness varies widely throughout the Caribbean, often due to insufficient financial and legislative support. Currently no comprehensive study has attempted to assess this situation. A concrete outcome of this subproject is the creation of a travelling exhibition developed in collaboration with local heritage institutions and local communities that addresses issues regarding Caribbean heritage in the past, present, and future, thereby voicing multiple perspectives of the past using the results of NEXUS1492.

Engaging with the Past: Community Outreach and Participation

One of the main challenges in Caribbean heritage management is raising local awareness and understanding of the importance of protection of heritage resources (see e.g. Siegel and Righter 2011). With some notable exceptions, current multi-ethnic culture and society considers the pre-colonial Amerindian populations as fundamentally different. In order to develop long-lasting and successful heritage preservation policies this subproject aims to engage the public by focussing on more general connections, stressing the continuity of the complex, dynamic and multivocal character of social processes in the region. In this way the indigenous Amerindian past (and its relationship with present-day indigenous peoples) can be positively incorporated in an inclusive and creative Caribbean cultural memory. The following two approaches will be adopted: (1) public education, and (2) active community participation and collaboration.