I have conducted archaeological, anthropological and/or archival research in Australia, Southeast Asia, North America, South America, the Middle East, UK and continental Europe. While my work has increasingly focused on recent pasts, presents, and futures, and their production in different institutional contexts, I have also worked on late Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological sites in Australia and on remote historical archaeological/heritage field projects in Australia and South America. My current research interests relate to the role of different forms of natural and cultural heritage conservation as future-making practices in the Anthropocene, and the future role of heritage and museums in the context of the extinction crisis and climate emergency. I have particular interests in international biobanking initiatives and other forms of biological and cultural collections in relation to these issues. I maintain an active interest in the history and philosophy of anthropology, archaeology, heritage and museums, especially in terms of the relations of these disciplines and related institutions with past and present liberal and illiberal (especially colonial) social governmental practices. I have made significant contributions to shaping national and international research policy through my roles as AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow and as a member of the scientific committee of the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change.
Current and completed research projects
The past decade has seen active engagement by cultural institutions in England with efforts to strengthen equality, diversity and inclusion and processes of ecological sustainability and decolonisation within organisations. Funded by UCL Innovation & Enterprise and co-chaired by Professor Paul Gilroy and Ashish Ghadiali, the Black Atlantic Innovation Network will see UCL’s Sarah Paker Remond Centre provide strategic support to leading arts, heritage and education organisations in taking stock of work already undertaken in these areas, exploring objectives, challenges and best practices and facilitating the emergence of collaborative future strategies within and across sectors.
Founding partners include Serpentine Galleries, the National Trust and the National Education Union and working groups will be co-led by Lucia Pietroiusti (Arts), Professor Rodney Harrison (Heritage) and Professor Tariq Jazeel (Education).
Ghosts of Solid Air is an innovative public engagement project that aims to provide a new Augmented Reality experience enabling diverse audiences to understand and participate in discussions around contested statues. As Gary Younge has recently argued, statues do not just give a 'misleading idea about particular people or particular historical events - they also skew how we understand history itself. For when you put up a statue to honour a historical moment, you reduce that moment to a single person' ('Why every single statue should come down', The Guardian 1 June 2021). Ghosts of Solid Air aims to address this distorted view of the past by digitally (re)populating the streets and squares that statues inhabit with the voices of those who are not remembered.
While debates over public commemoration and memorialisation are nothing new, recent events in the UK and around the world have brought into sharp focus the need for more nuanced and pluralistic stories to be told in and through the historic built environment. This is not just a question of what histories are represented in public space, and how, but also who gets to play a role in telling these stories, and what agency they have to shape new narratives. As Nancy Fraser argued in her seminal paper 'Rethinking Recognition', 'culture ... is a legitimate, even necessary, terrain of struggle [and] a site of injustice in its own right'. For Fraser, confronting these injustices means 'changing the values that regulate interaction, entrenching new value patterns that will promote parity of participation in social life'. Participatory parity in this context seeks to avoid both authoritarianism and separatist identity politics, aiming instead for a form of democratised 'transcultural interaction'. Heritage and memory are key focal points for such interaction, but they are also terrains of struggle and - all-too-often - sites of ongoing injustice. How to foster participatory parity therefore remains an urgent question for the field: one that reaches far beyond academic discourse to impact on issues of access, inclusion and the politics of representation.
Responding to this concern - and building on a process of co-creation developed by the project team over a period of twelve months - the experience we aim to develop will be produced in close collaboration with a group of young people (18-25) from London who are not typically engaged with heritage practice or discourse. They will help to shape the research, design and curatorial strategy of the experience. Furthermore, audiences using the Ghosts of Solid Air AR app will encounter a multitude of historical 'ghosts' jostling for their attention: a stark reminder of the many stories overshadowed by one-dimensional statues and monuments. They will then be invited to contribute their own experiences and sentiments to this digital assembly, helping to build a record of contemporary public debate on the memorial landscape. Through this approach the project will emphasise the importance of 'participatory parity' at all stages of the product design. By the end of the award, audiences and participants alike will be introduced to the potential for contested heritage to become a terrain of 'transcultural interaction' rather than further social injustice.
Ghosts of Solid Air initiated as part of Colin Sterling's AHRC-funded New Trajectories in Curatorial Experience Design fellowship, with its second phase funded by an AHRC Follow-on-funding for Impact and Engagement Award (AH/W006146/1, project co-leads Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling, in partnership with Anagram; FEC £96,427, funder contribution £80,356).
Reimagining Museums for Climate Action began life as a design and ideas competition, launched on International Museum Day 2020. Responding to the two main pillars of climate action - mitigation and adaptation - the competition asked how museums could help society make the deep, transformative changes needed to achieve a net-zero or zero-carbon world. Rather than focus on a specific location or type of museum, the competition invited proposals that aimed to unsettle and subvert the very foundations of museological thinking to support and encourage meaningful climate action. Importantly, we wanted to invite those who are not normally part of the conversation around museums to take part. We specifically asked for design and concept proposals that were radically different from the ‘traditional’ museum, or that explored new ways for traditional museums to operate. The responses, which could address any aspect of museum design and activity, ranged from the fantastical to the highly practical.
We received more than 250 proposals from around 50 countries and with an international panel of judges, and in consultation with the Glasgow Science centre, we selected 8 winning proposals to develop their ideas as part of an exhibition, which launched as part of the Science Centre’s re-opening on June 25th 2021, and remained on display throughout November 2021, as part of the official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26 Green Zone. The exhibition was accompanied by talks, workshops and other activities in both the Blue and Green Zones of COP26, which aimed to encourage debate around the future role of museums in times of rapid environmental change. During COP26 we also launched an open access book and museums and climate action toolkit. Our website features 82 additional proposals from amongst those which were submitted to the competition. Throughout 2022 we will be organising a series of workshops around the toolkit to inspire further radical transformation in the museum sector to address the climate emergency. The exhibition was also part of the Google Arts and Culture COP26 Digital Green Zone, where it was featured as one of "5 incredible ideas from the COP26 Green Zone".
The project, exhibition and workshops were funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and co-led by Rodney Harrison (UCL Institute of Archaeology (IoA) under an extension to the AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellowship project, FEC £116,850 funder contribution c.£93,480 plus an additional tranche of c.£60,000 to run the 2022 workshops and augment the toolkit and website) and Colin Sterling (University of Amsterdam) as part of his own AHRC Leadership Fellowship project, with Henry McGhie (Curating Tomorrow), and Emma Woodham and colleagues at the Glasgow Science Centre. We were supported on the project by research assistance from Janna Oud Ammerveld (PhD student) and Rowan Gard (postdoctoral researcher).
Heritage Futures was a large, international, collaborative research project involving a team of 16 researchers working in collaboration with 25 different partner organisations. The project carried out ambitious comparative interdisciplinary research to explore the potential for innovation and creative exchange across a broad range of heritage and related fields, in partnership with a number of academic and non-academic institutions and interest groups. Further information is available on the project website at www.heritage-futures.org
(Funded by an AHRC Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past Theme Large Grant (AH/M004376/1), Principal Investigator Rodney Harrison; Co-Investigators Caitlin DeSilvey, Cornelius Holtorf, & Sharon Macdonald; Senior Creative Fellow Antony Lyons; Post-Doctoral Researchers Nadia Bartolini, Esther Breithoff, Martha Fleming, Harald Fredheim, Sarah May, Jennie Morgan and Sefryn Penrose; Project Administrator Hannah Williams; FEC £1,999,375, funder contribution £1,618,134, plus additional in-kind and actual partner contributions including three additional PhD studentships, Kyle Lee-Crossett (University College London), Bryony Prestidge (University of York) and Robyn Raxworthy (University of Exeter), funded separately as in-kind support to the project by those respective institutions).
In coming decades, the need to adapt to and mitigate accelerated environmental change will require heritage and landscape managers to make difficult decisions about how to manage assets and allocate resources (IPCC Climate Change and Land Report 2019, Environment Bill 2019). New strategies are needed for sensitive, proactive management of heritage transformations, particularly in vulnerable coastal landscapes and for assets already in an advanced state of decline. Key findings from the Heritage Futures project which inform this follow on project include: (1) a lack of clarity about the regulatory environment as it relates to the active management of structural change and decline in designated heritage assets, and (2) perceived tensions between natural and cultural heritage priorities blocking effective decision making and change management. The project seeks apply these findings to give decision-makers the capability and the confidence to integrate natural and cultural heritage perspectives in their management of dynamic cultural landscapes, and to recognise opportunities to manage heritage assets for enhancement of both natural and cultural heritage capital. The main project outcome will be a decision support framework which will facilitate iterative, adaptive landscape management and stakeholder engagement over extended timeframes, as heritage and land assets undergo gradual or abrupt change. Further information is available on the Landscape Futures project website.
(1st Feb 2020-1st Feb 2022, funded under the AHRC Landscape Decisions/Changing Landscapes Follow-on Fund for Impact and Engagement Call (AH/T012196/1); FEC £100k, funder contribution £80,620; Principal Investigator Caitlin DeSilvey (University of Exeter); Co-Investigators Rodney Harrison (University College London), Hannah Fluck (Historic England), Rosie Hails (The National Trust), Ingrid Samuel (The National Trust); Project Partner Natural England).
This project aimed to provide strategic leadership on heritage research for the AHRC, whilst funding research and engagement activities relating to a series of 8 key themes: Heritage and Climate Change; Data, Technology and Social Change; Future Heritages; The Global Challenge Research Fund; Inclusion, Exclusion and Diversity; Nature, Culture and the Posthumanities; Sustainable and Unsustainable Development; and The UK in Europe. Further information is available on the project website www.heritage-research.org
(1st Jan 2017-31st Dec 2019, extended to 31st Dec 2021; AHRC Priority Area Leadership Fellowship (AH/P009719/1); FEC £1,178,846.03, funder contribution £943,076.82; Principal Investigator Rodney Harrison; Postdoctoral Researchers Hana Morel and Colin Sterling; Executive Assistants Susie Sandford-Smith and Hannah Williams).
This project will build on the work of the AHRC Heritage Priority Area by aiming to transform and increase understanding amongst government, public and private heritage professionals, scholars, and university staff and students of domestic and international policies that indirectly or directly impact, influence, or relate to the heritage sector; foster dialogues between policy makers, heritage professionals and UK heritage research communities; increase awareness of the role the Arts and Humanities can play in policy and decision-making, and; develop a network of dialogue and activity between policy-makers and heritage research/researchers in the UK. There will be a series of activities organised to facilitate the above aims which include workshops, panels and conferences.
(1st Jan 2020-30th September 2020; funded by AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellowship Follow on Funding(AH/P009719/1); FEC £124,974, funder contribution £99,979.20; Principal Investigator Rodney Harrison; Postdoctoral Researcher Hana Morel).
This pilot project developed out of work led by Trinidad Rico on the archaeology and heritage of the Huemul Atomic Project in Argentina, coupled with observations of the ways in which the designation of certain forms of conservation landscape (for example national parks and other forms of protected areas) might be seen to facilitate specific forms of environmentally damaging “non-conservation” activities outside of their borders which had emerged as part of the work of Heritage Futures. These issues were explored through a focus on the archaeological and heritage landscapes associated with the failed quest for nuclear fusion on Isla Huemul within Nahuel Huapi National Park near Bariloche in Argentina, and the ways in which this experiment facilitated the subsequent establishment of a working nuclear reactor and atomic research institute in the same town and park, and other attempts to develop alternative energy sources in the form of hydroelectric power schemes, alongside their broader effects on the landscape.
This pilot study resulted in the establishment of a transnational, interdisciplinary working group which is developing a broader project on the relationship between conservation landscapes, statecraft, practices of power and relationships between “waste” and “wilderness” across Chile and Argentina in the Northern Patagonian region. This network aims to consider how these historical and contemporary tensions might be considered collectively in the development of new policies and practices in clean energy production and landscape conservation in the region. An exhibition “Los ecos del Proyecto Huemul, 1949-2017”, hosted at the Balseiro Institute in Bariloche, presented the results of this research.
(1st Nov 2016-30 Jun 2017; AHRC GCRF Large Grant Innovation Award (AH/P009158/1); Principal Investigator Rodney Harrison, Co-Investigator Trinidad Rico, Post-Doctoral Researcher Esther Breithoff; FEC £143,862, funder contribution £118,790).
This large collaborative cross-institutional research centre was funded under a successful c.£3.7M bid to the ‘University of Gothenburg Centers for Global Societal Challenges’ call for research centre funding (awarded to Kristian Kristiansen and Ola Wetterberg at University of Gothenburg and Beverley Butler, Rodney Harrison and Mike Rowlands at UCL). It facilitates collaborative research undertaken across the two institutions on five interdisciplinary research clusters:
The Heritage Academy is a platform for, and collaboration with, external institutions including museums, archives, libraries etc.
I have acted as joint Director of the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies at UCL since 2016, where it operates as an inter-faculty research centre led by the UCL Institute of Archaeology and supported by the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies in partnership with the University of Gothenburg.
“CHEurope” is a PhD training program in cultural heritage supported by the European Union under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) – Innovative Training Networks (ITN). The project is the result of a collaboration between key European academic and non-academic organisations in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy. With an overall duration of 4 years (November 2016 to October 2020), the project supports the research and training of 15 Early Stage Researchers from Europe and other parts of the world. I lead Work Package 1 on "Theorizing Heritage Futures in Europe".
I participated in this working group, hosted by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, between 2011 and 2013. The group aimed to challenge the taken-for-granted nature of endangerment in contemporary discourse by placing it in conceptual and historical perspective and exploring the situated, culturally and historically specific character of the imperative to preserve nature and culture. It culminated in the publication of the book Endangerment, Biodiversity and Culture, edited by Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias, in 2016.
This project aimed to study early twentieth-century museums in Australia, Europe, North America and New Zealand, investigating the new relationships between museums, anthropological fieldwork and social governance that emerged over this period. What roles did anthropology museum collections play in metropolitan public spheres? What roles did they play in relation to the governance of colonised populations? How did these roles vary across different colonial contexts? In addressing these questions the project explored their relevance to contemporary debates and practices focused on the relations between museums and Indigenous peoples. It was assisted in this by an Indigenous Advisory Committee in Australia and an Indigenous Reference Group in New Zealand.
A number of individual publications resulted from this project, however the work of the project is collectively summarised in the collaboratively authored monograph Collecting, Ordering, Governing.
(2011-2104, funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant; Principal Investigators Professor Tony Bennett and Fiona Cameron, University of Western Sydney; Co-Investigators Rodney Harrison, UCL; Ira Jacknis, Pheobe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley; Nelia Dias, University of Lisbon; Conal McCarthy, Victoria University of Wellington. Indigenous Advisory Committees chaired by Phil Gordon, Head of Aboriginal Collections, Australian Museum Professor Paul Tapsell, Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies, University of Otago. Total grant amount $AUD238,000).
School of Advanced Research Advanced Seminar
I was one of four co-organisers of this Advanced Seminar at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2010, along with Sarah Byrne, Annie Clarke and Robin Torrence. The aim of the seminar was to explore and reconceptualise the roles of indigenous people and collectors in the production of contemporary and historic ethnographic collections. The seminar culminated in the publication of the book Reassembling the Collection: Ethnographic Museums and Indigenous Agency. You can read my introduction to the book 'Reassembling Ethnographic Museum Collections' online.
Consuming Colonialism: Souvenir objects and Indigenous agency in Oceania
Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant, Principal Investigator, Rodney Harrison. Total funder contribution $AUD278,480. 3 years. 2007-2010.
Co-Investigator; Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant, 2014-2017. Principal Investigator Professor Alan Mayne, La Trobe University; other Co-Investigators included Dr C Fahey; A/Prof R Frances; Dr LE Frost; A/Prof H Goodall; Dr J Gregory; Prof PA Grimshaw; Dr RG Hosking; Prof RA Nile. Total grant amount $AUD331,665.
Archaeologies of Remembering: Heritage as Memorywork, Australian National University Postdoctoral Research Fellowship 2004-2006.
A comparative study of the role of heritage 'work' in the construction of identity amongst archaeologists and indigenous people in New South Wales (Australia) and California (USA). The two year fellowship included salary at the level of Lecturer B (c. $AUD50,000 per year) and a research stipend of $AUD5,000 per year (total value of award approximately $AUD110,000).
Shared Histories of the Pastoral Industry was a project which I designed and led for the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service which explored the role of Indigenous and non-Indigenous histories in the pastoral industry in NSW. It culminated in the monograph Shared Landscapes (UNSW Press, 2004), which won the Australian Archaeological Association's John Mulvaney Book Prize, and the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology's Graham Connah Book Prize, and was nominated for the NSW Premier's book prize.
1997, Chief Investigator (ie Principal Investigator); Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) research grant . Total grant amount $AUD26,000.