New Heritage(s) Through Migration

At my current job, we’ve now done several projects that have drawn on Third Space as a methodology [1]. What has come up over and over again is the need for something new to emerge through the Third Space – a new shared concept of community, a new shared understanding of an issue, a new shared determination for a different solution. The emphasis evidently lies on ‘new’ and ‘shared’. Out of the coming together within the Third Space arises something that is, as the saying goes, larger than its individual parts. It develops from the merging of what everyone brought into the Third Space and the negotiation that was made possible therein.

Through one of our projects, landscape emerged as a seemingly connecting feature for the diverse communities sharing our city. Wanting to follow up on this, we joined forces with our Roman history museum to invite people to share their own connections with the Roman archaeology found around our city. Especially those who had migrated to our town from other places with Roman archaeology expressed something that is perhaps most closely related to what Perla Innocenti called ‘migrating heritage’ [2]. It is Roman heritage, or at least awareness of Roman archaeology and history that has migrated with people across borders. And they bring their knowledge and connection to this Roman heritage with them into the new context of Germany.

For Innocenti, this calls for the creation of a strong network of cultural institutions, working across borders precisely to break open (in her case Europe’s) boundaries (ibid, p. 3). I absolutely see the point of this vision for a stronger collaboration between cultural institutions that touch on heritage that is shared across borders. However, my interest when it comes to migration and heritage is more about that other aspect which Innocenti mentions when she writes ‘that one key feature of (multi)cultural heritage is the drive to unbound identities and let them interweave in networks, in pathways of exchange and contamination’ (ibid, p. 1). After all, when I think of heritage in the Third Space, it is about this meeting of people of different places of origin, with different heritages, coming together to negotiate and thus create new and shared heritage(s). And from the responses of some people in our Roman project [3] landscape and local context does seem to play a role in this.

With this in mind, I was very excited when I recently came across Ingold and Kurtilla’s 2000 article on Perceiving the Environment in Finnish Lapland [4]. Their concept of ‘traditional knowledge as generated in the practices of locality’ (ibid, p. 184) gives landscape and local context much more concrete substance in the creation of, in their case, traditional knowledge. In fact, they argue that, ‘For local people […] traditional knowledge is inseparable from actual practices of inhabiting the land’ (ibid, p. 186). This inhabiting of the land is also at the root of their definition of ‘local people’: they write that it ‘actually creates places. And in creating places, it also makes the inhabitants people of those places – it makes them local.’

Ingold and Kurtilla theorize their concept of ‘traditional local knowledge’ (TLK) with reference to a study they did with Sami people in Norway, and specifically their evolving practices relating to weather. One might argue that this is a rather narrow case of practices responding to locality: weather naturally changes depending on where you are, so if your survival is dependent on that environment, your practices will need to adapt accordingly, and thus they may change. Nevertheless, I think Ingold and Kurtilla present a strong argument that local landscape and context do matter, even if this may need to be explored further.

In a study based on Ingold and Kurtilla’s concept of TLK, Nikielska-Sekula [5] looks at how Turkish newcomers adjust the heritage they brought with them to the heritage of their new home in Norway. She describes both the mingling of Turkish practices with Norwegian Christmas traditions by the newcomers as well as their participation in key Norwegian events such as the 17May celebrations, thus highlighting how heritage changes yet again in response to a local context.

However, Nikielska-Sekula does not report a similar process of adaptation and change in the, for lack of a better term, mainstream Norwegian population. In fact, she hints at a need for ‘host societies’ and particularly nation states to change their official narratives in order to enable what she calls ‘heritage of diversity’ (ibid, p. 26) [6].

This brings me back to the beginning of this post. I wonder whether new heritage(s) could be created through Third Spaces at heritage sites within countries and between the diverse people living within its landscapes. Coming back to Innocenti’s call for institutional networks of migrating heritage, I wonder if they should not rather be networks of Third Spaces. Instead of focusing on a heritage that is, the networks might enable a shared process of heritage creation in the local context, both social and environmental.

My search so far hasn’t brought up any studies of such joint heritage creation through migration, or networks of this kind. So if you know of any, please post them in the comments.


[1] I write ‘methodology’, and it is. However, it is also quintessentially about a particular attitude about power-sharing and creating space for diversity.

[2] Innocenti, P. (2014). ‘Introduction: migrating heritage – experiences of cultural networks and cultural dialogue in Europe.’ In: Innocenti, P. (ed), 2014. Migrating Heritage: Experiences of Cultural Networks and Cultural Dialogue in Europe. Ashgate: Farnham, pp. 1-24

[3] There’s one more round of feedback to be done, then I will share more about that project on this blog. It brought us as an organisation, and me personally, quite a lot of learning, so I think you’ll find it interesting too. Watch this space.

[4] Ingold, T. and Kurtilla, T. (2000). ‘Perceiving the Environment in Finnish Lapland.’ Body & Society 6(3-4), pp. 183-196

[5] Nikielska-Sekula, K, 2019. ‘Migrating heritage? Recreating ancestral and new homeland heritage in the practices of immigration minorities.’ International Journal of Heritage Studies 25 (11), pp. 1-15

[6] I’m not too fond of this term, ‘heritage of diversity’, because in my ears it still sounds like something separate. What I’m after here is new, mingled, shared heritage(s).

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