Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass professor Elizabeth Chilton to speak in Madrid and Paris about importance of heritage studies

By Jaclyn Bryson

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(Courtesy of Elizabeth Chilton)

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Chilton)

University of Massachusetts Professor Elizabeth Chilton wants people to understand the true meaning of heritage. And she’s traveling halfway around the world to do so.

“When I tell people in the U.S. that I’m the director of the Center for Heritage and Society, people say, ‘Heritage…is that like genealogy?’” Chilton said. “I think in the U.S. we don’t use that word a lot.”

To examine this issue from an international standpoint, Chilton, who is a UMass alumna herself, will be in Madrid from Sept. 15 to 21. She plans to spread the word about the University’s Center for Heritage and Society and her recent proposal for a master’s program dedicated to global heritage studies, according to a UMass press release.

“The program is aiming at something that is really not currently addressed in the academy in the U.S. right now,” she said. “That is, not the study of the past, but the study of contemporary people, and why the past matters and how the past matters in the present.”

A program like this available at UMass, she said, will give students the tools necessary to better appreciate the significance of heritage and take appropriate action.

“I think that students who come to our program are going to have approaches and understandings of the broader impacts and foundations of cultural heritage than students who might go to a program somewhere else that might focus on archeology, for example,” she said.

Chilton also hopes the master’s program will help students look at heritage in a different way – with a more critical eye. She said this has typically been the duty of experts, like the International Council on Monuments and Sites, to decide what heritage sites are most historically important and thus get listed on the World Heritage List, a registry of globally significant landmarks and monuments. She hopes students who come out of this program can push the envelope and get more involved in saving parts of our past that may otherwise be forgotten.

“We are a melting pot,” she said. “So what histories are we overlooking?”

While the master’s program has not yet been officially approved, the dedication put into making these and other programs, like the Center for Heritage and Society, which was established in 2009, has gotten attention. Attention, Chilton added, from places outside the U.S. and UMass.

“(These conferences) are a little different. These are sort of invitation only, smaller work-shopping groups,” she said. “What that tells me is that the work of not just me, but all of the people that have been involved has reached a certain level, that UMass is being noticed for its contribution to international heritage issues.”

According to the release, Chilton has also been invited to speak in Paris from Feb. 18 to 21, 2015, where she will focus her presentation on the economic value and social importance heritage has for the people of today.

“The Paris talk is really an example of academics and what I would call ‘heritage professionals,’ people who want to implement heritage projects, getting together to really think about how can we deal with the economic piece of this,” she said. “You can’t just say to governments, ‘Heritage is good, give us money to do it.’”

And although Chilton will be speaking to educate others, there is one thing she said she looks forward to during her time abroad– learning from others in return.

“I like meeting people who are interested in the same things, but coming at it with different experiences,” she added.

She also hopes that as she delivers her speeches to these international crowds, that people not only gain a better sense of the importance of heritage, but also learn more about the idea of heritage in a social sense.

“What I hope people take away is just maybe a more broad social science perspective,” she said. “That’s the agenda. How do we develop social science, theory and method into understanding why the past matters in contemporary society and then using that data to better manage places, things and people to help places, things and people in multiple ways?”

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at [email protected]

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