Thought Leadership Series


Can Scotland play a leading role in redefining Heritage?


Before the referendum the Scottish National Party promised that in the event of a yes vote, Scotland would sign up to UNESCO’s Charter for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). In the current political climate, it is unlikely that Westminster will proceed with ratification of the Charter.

Heriot-Watt held a debate on 4th June chaired by Ann Packard (Chairman, RSA Scotland) on whether or not this would impact on the role Scotland can play in leading international conversations on ICH.


  • Professor Máiréad Nic Craith, Professor in European Culture & Heritage, Heriot-Watt University
  • Joanne Orr, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland
  • Luke Wormald, Head of Historic Environment Strategy, Scottish Government
  • Janet Archer, CEO Creative Scotland
  • Colin McLean, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland

The context for the debate was set by Heriot-Watt’s Professor Máiréad Nic Craith, who argued that the current twin-track approach of tangible/intangible heritage should be replaced with a more holistic approach to heritage practice generally.

In her presentation, Joanne Orr (CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland) outlined the implications of the UNESCO Charter for ICH generally as well as giving insights into the benefits and drawbacks of the UK’s non-ratification of the Charter.

Focusing on Our Place in Time - The Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland, Luke Wormald (Head of Historic Environment strategy, Scottish Government) gave insights into the Government framework which sets out a 10 year vision for the historic environment in Scotland which places great emphasis on community engagement with heritage.

Janet Archer (CEO Creative Scotland) and Colin McLean (Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Scotland) emphasised the importance of ICH for their respective organisations and the manner in which they support ICH in Scotland.

Following the presentations, there was a lively discussion on Scotland’s international contribution to heritage practice. Interesting questions raised included issues of heritage and gender, British Sign Language, and whether heritage can promote healing. The debate was attended by a wide range of participants from across the heritage sector in Scotland as well as from universities in Scotland and England.

You can read our Storify account of the debate here.

SIEF Congress 2015

SIEF2015Raising the Standard of Intercultural Research: 
Heriot-Watt profiled strongly at major international congress

From 22-25 June 2015, members of Heriot-Watt’s Intercultural Research Centre (IRC) participated in the 2015 congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) in Zagreb. SIEF is the main international learned society in its field.

The theme for 2015 was “Utopias–Realities–Heritages”, and the IRC team contributed significantly to the debate, not just by the usual conference activities of presenting papers and chairing panels. Although for most of the team, this was their first SIEF congress, they impressed their peers with originality and commitment, as evident not just in the conference’s Twitter feed.Anna

The papers they presented ranged across a broad spectrum of topics: Postgraduate members presented a semiotic analysis of clothing, heritage & identity of Russian Old Believers in Romania (Cristina Clopot), a case study of fundraising for the National Trust Scotland (Anna Koryczan), and ethnographic insights into Lithuanian migration to Scotland (Vitalija Stepušaitytė).

Staff members explored how emotional scripts of medieval passion plays are re-imagined for and by contemporary audiences (Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer), whether Derry~Londonderry’s year as UK City of Culture 2013 succeeded in generating a shared story for the city (Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, written with Dr Katerina Strani and IRC associate member Dr Philip McDermott), and political dimensions of place and belonging among displaced groups (Prof. Ullrich Kockel, reporting on his SML-IRG funded research project on expellee and refugee youth after World War Two).

Two IRC associate members also spoke at the conference: Dr des. Nandini Senroy on lived spaces of waste picking communities in Calcutta, and Dr Salma Siddique about memories and expectations of home in the context of post-traumatic counselling. Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, jointly with Prof. Kristin Kuutma (Tartu/Estonia), convened a three-session panel on heritage as social, economic and utopian resource, which received numerous enthusiastic Tweets from participants.

SIEF’s research working groups met on the second evening of the congress. Kerstin Pfeiffer was elected secretary of newly formed SIEF working group “Body, Senses and Emotions”, and Ullrich Kockel presented his final report on the “Place Wisdom” group, which he had led since establishing it in 2009, before handing over the baton to Prof. Katriina Siivonen (Helsinki) and Dr Stella Butter (Gießen).

thumb IMG 20150618 135233297 1024The creative workshop format was introduced by Prof. Kockel for the 2008 SIEF congress in Ulster.
In Zagreb he led a IMG 0591workshop developing further a funding proposal for an interdisciplinary exploration of “waterscape perspectives” on cultural heritages and sustainable development. Doctoral student Vitalija Stepušaitytė led a workshop on “Mapping Home”, which involved inter alia the creation of a 3D-map using thread, cardboard and two chairs; an interactive sketch map of truckers’ home on the road; the soundscape of Latvian solstice songs; and the drawing of life journey maps and building of paper-craft models to capture different experiences and ensuing narratives.

As a result of this workshop, she was picked by one of the most highly regarded senior researchers in the field, emProf. Orvar Löfgren (Lund), to join a group of 9 young researchers from around the globe for the final session of the congress, where they were introduced as “representing the future of ethnology”. Prof. Löfgren commended her workshop as an exemplary and most inspiring approach demonstrating new ways of practicing ethnology. In her contribution to the session, she raised the question of whether and how we can give tangible expression to complex cultural phenomena.

In contributions from the floor during this final session, senior scholars emphasised the importance of heritage research and the need for a greater emphasis on ecological issues – both areas in which the IRC has particularly strong expertise. The IRC members came away from this conference not only feeling proud of their team effort and achievements, but reassured by their international peers that they are part of an innovative venture that is seen as leading research in the field.

Read the IRC Storify on SIEF2015.

Exhibition: Germans in Britain


There’s more to British-German relations than war and football.

Explore the rich and fascinating history of German migrants to Britain in a new pop-up exhibition.

Germans have had an immense impact on British life over the centuries. Find out how British sport, science, banks, business, music, monarchs, art and design have all been shaped by their German connections.

GiBGERMANS IN BRITAIN is a touring exhibition created by the Migration Museum Project.

The exhibition has been brought to Scotland on the initiative of Heriot-Watt’s Intercultural Research Centre with the generous support of the German Consulate-General Edinburgh, the National Records of Scotland and the University of Aberdeen.

From 6 July until 7 August 2015 it could be seen at National Records of Scotland,
General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY.  

The exhibition was officially opened with an event hosted by the Consulate-General of Germany in Edinburgh at 6-8pm on Monday, 6 July 2015. On Tuesday 21 July 2015 at 2-3pm, the IRC’s Prof. Ullrich Kockel gave a public lecture on "German Roots and Routes in Contemporary Britain". Prof. Ullrich Kockel's opening talk, which summarised key points of his lecture, is available here.

On Friday, 7 August 2015, Florian Kaplick closed the exhibition with a full-length performance of Kurt Schwitters' “Ursonate”, of which he had performed a sample on the exhibition’s opening night.


From 14 August until 24 September, the exhibition can be seen at the Sir Duncan Rice Library in Aberdeen.


For further venues, see the Migration Museum website.

GCGE logoGiB NRS logoMMP logo


IRC Conversation 2016

A Conversation with Sandy Dawe CBE

3:15-4:15pm on Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Campus MBG13

This is the second event in the IRC's series of annual "research conversations".

Taking place once a year, these conversations between one of our research leaders and a key thinker in their respective field explore topics of mutual interest.

The 'conversants' will discuss a topic, or set of topics, for some 30-40 minutes, followed by time for questions from the audience. The event will conclude informally over a glass of wine.

For this year's conversation, our guest will be Sandie Dawe CBE, former CEO of VisitBritain, who will be talking to the IRC's Prof. Kevin O'Gorman. Their topic will be "Tourism, Branding and Soft Power".

Attendance is free but places are limited. Please register here.

For further details, please contact Prof. Ullrich Kockel.