Guest Post: AHRC Care for the Future Theme

Professor Andrew Thompson is Leadership Fellow of the Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past Theme. Christine Boyle is the Theme Co-ordinator.

On 9th and 10th September 2014, the Cultural Value Project worked with Care for the Future to organise a joint symposium on ‘Culture, Conflict and Post-Conflict’, a topic suited well to the research interests of both programmes. The purpose of the symposium was to consider the role of arts and cultural practices and performance in the process of post-conflict resolution and transformation.

Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past affords an opportunity for arts and humanities researchers to explore the dynamic relationship that exists between past, present, and future through a temporally inflected lens. The past is all around us. The future’s uncertainties weigh heavily on the present and turn us back to history for insights into the age in which we live. Environmental change, pressures on welfare, technological advances, humanitarian interventions, and the causes and effects of globalisation are all being subject to historical scrutiny in myriad ways.

The Theme opens up fascinating issues of intergenerational communication, and of who and what purposes histories are written for.  It also looks at how the past is set out for different needs, and whose voices are heard and silenced in the process. Great interaction under the theme between disciplines across the arts and humanities enable us to think through complex questions, including the consciousness of time; and whether history can furnish us with moral obligations.

Care for the Future awards grants to researchers investigating issues of time and temporality. Three Large Grants were recently awarded under the theme; these are innovative and collaborative research projects involving over 50 different UK and international partner organisations, and which will serve as ‘beacons’ of the theme to develop and promote the intellectual work done under Care for the Future.

Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage led by Dr Rodney Harrison at University College London, will compare a range of conventional and unconventional future-making practices from a number of different heritage and heritage-like fields. It aims to facilitate co-creation and sharing of practical knowledge across domains of practice which are rarely considered collectively and to contribute to the development of innovative and sustainable approaches to heritage conservation.

The second award is The Antislavery Usable Past, led by Professor Kevin Bales at the University of Hull. There are an estimated 30 million slaves alive today; this project seeks to provide the contemporary antislavery movement with a usable antislavery past and help translate history’s lessons into today’s effective tools for policy makers, civil society, and citizens.

Dr Stephen Muir (University of Leeds) leads Performing the Jewish Archive. This project’s objective is to bring recently rediscovered musical, theatrical and literary works by Jewish artists back to the attention of scholars and the public, and to stimulate the creation of new works based on archives. This scholarly work and artistic practice will engage with and re-theorise traditional archives, ethnographic archives, and artistic works themselves. The multi-disciplinary team will focus on the years 1880-1950, an intense period of Jewish displacement, in order to illuminate the role of art in displacement. Information on other projects taking place under the Theme can be found at

In addition to awards like the Large Grants above, we also hold events to bring together award holders and other researchers concerned with Theme-relevant issues. A major sub-theme for us is cultural memory and historical legacy – how we understand knowledge of the past to have been translated into the present.  For the Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past Theme, questions of memory, healing and trauma, as well as the dynamics of relationships between generations, are of great concern. The Theme seeks to understand how societies come to terms with difficult and divisive pasts, how past conflicts are reproduced in present generations, and how different creative, literary and artistic modes of engagement with the past may help to envisage alternative futures.  It recognises the complexities of cultural phenomena, and the need to distinguish between the role that culture can play in the politics of identity formation and representation on the one hand, and its role through in the mediation of conflict on the other.

The recent ‘Culture, Conflict and Post-Conflict’ symposium is one event we have used to bring together arts and humanities academics and arts practitioners to interrogate these concepts. Participants considered the role of arts and cultural practices and performance in the process of post-conflict resolution and transformation, explored with special reference to conflict and post-conflict situations within the boundaries of states, primarily South Africa, Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Art and culture are often given some prominence amongst the tools that are used to reconcile communities and to help deal with personal and collective trauma. The symposium explored why that is the case, how effective it is to use these tools, and what complexities surround their usage.

Find out more about the event here: As part of the symposium we had an excellent performance by Kabosh theatre company of Laurence McKeown’s Those You Pass on the Street. You can learn more about the work of Kabosh theatre company here: