Christopher PrescottThis year’s Cultural Heritage Lecture Series kicked off on October 4th with a lecture from Christopher Prescott, Director of The Norwegian Institute in Rome, addressing one of the most pressing heritage topics in Europe – how to integrate new immigrant communities into national narratives. Since Norway achieved full independence in 1905 it has based its cultural identity on its ancient Norse and Viking background and has developed a heritage structure that showcases the rich archaeological and literary heritage from these periods. This traditional view has changed very little, notwithstanding the dynamic demographic changes in recent years which have resulted in a substantial immigrant population in cities like Oslo. The issue becomes ever more important as within the year 2030 over 50% of the urban population will be first or second generation immigrants.
Christopher’s message is that professionals within the fields of Archaeology and Heritage urgently need to re-examine their narratives and practices and become more relevant to contemporary society. His talk was focused on Oslo, Norway, where he has conducted fieldwork. The results show that archaeology and cultural heritage have had little impact on immigrant communities. As a result students and professionals in these fields are largely recruited among Northern Europeans. Effectively culture and heritage is run by, and directed at, a traditional white middle class population, completely excluding a large proportion of the population of contemporary Oslo. He cited interviews with established Punjabi Pakistani immigrants which showed that they considered the humanities a luxury field of study, irrelevant to new immigrants who first need to establish their economic status in Norway in professions such as law, engineering and medicine. Immigrant communities also expressed displeasure at the way museums attempt to represent their cultures, by emphasizing their “otherness” as opposed to finding points of communication to bring the various foreign and Norwegian cultures closer together.
The message of Christopher’s talk was very timely for Cultural Heritage students. We are beginning our own analysis of the interaction between immigrant communities and the population of Rome. Notwithstanding the fact that Rome and Oslo are at opposite ends of Europe we found many of the same sentiments expressed which will certainly give us food for thought as we move forward.