18th ERIH Annual Conferences
The first steps are done: Industrial heritage owes its existence to the structural changes in industry in the last third of the 20th century. Abandoned factories were transformed into venues of culture, preserving the memory of the lives and achievements of engineers and entrepreneurs as well as, and especially, of the workers. These sites convey the legacy of industrial heritage that – despite its many crises – enabled large parts of Europe to experience an era of mass prosperity.
Today, industrial societies are facing another transformation that calls its very foundations into question. “Protecting, linking and promoting Europe’s industrial heritage in a changing world” is the title for our new Creative Europe programme 2022-24. This “changing world” is the generic term for challenges and new developments such as climate change, digitalisation, pandemic, gender equality, inclusion and new values – the world is in a state of transformation and this naturally also has an impact on industrial heritage.
This transformation can be considered as the next “Industrial Revolution”. With climate crisis, it has become obvious that the way we produce and use things has to change fundamentally. This transformation is not only aiming at a new industry. It changes the way we look back at the industrial age. Especially younger people value it much more critically, not only in terms of its ecological consequences, but also of the intertwining of the industrial age with colonialism.
Without an understanding of this history and legacies of industrial heritage, the upcoming transformation of industrial society won’t be successful. But when the smoking chimney of the steam engine becomes a portent of the climate crisis and the miner in the coal mine is no longer a working hero but also a symbol of a “fossil” patriarchy, the image of industrial heritage is questioned, as well as the way we communicate with the public.
These are important, justified insights. They force us to play a more active role in this transformation, to rethink our own operations and make them more sustainable. And in order to reach people, we have to tell our stories differently. We need to address also critical issues inextricably linked to industry. This requires new ways of storytelling at the venues of European industrial heritage.
With the “European Green Deal” and the “New European Bauhaus” the European Commission has defined framework concepts which are important guard rails for our common European value system.
Questions our speakers will address at the conference:
- How can we tell the story of industrialisation in a less backward-looking and glorifying the past way? What are appropriate, sustainable new narratives (also for the young generation) for industrialisation and its significance for the present and future?
- How can we relate our “old stories” to current challenges such as climate change, migration, gender equality, inclusion, etc.? What are the stories untold up to know (and whose stories?) that we have to tell, i. e. those dealing with colonial aspects or forced labour of our sites?
- How can industrial heritage sites take their responsibility as an actor and part of the European Green Deal?
- How can industrial heritage sites make their operation more sustainable? How can we make site visits of our guests more climate friendly? Can and should we proceed in consuming fossil energies, having in mind that some of our most popular visitors’ attractions are fuelled by them, but in using them we also risk losing credibility? Are there adequate substitutes
- Which stories can be told so that industrial heritage will be seen not as part of the problem but as part of the solution? Which knowledge embodied in industrial heritage sites is valuable for a successful transformation into a post-fossil society? How can it become a more prominent part of our education and mediation programmes?
- Are there already good examples of cooperation with producing industry, research and educational institutions?
- Which partners do we need for that and are they prepared to cooperate?