The Future of Cultural Heritage

Science fiction author Naomi Alderman recently wrote in The Guardian, “The conclusion I’ve come to through extensive speculative fiction voyaging is that the best we can hope for, probably, is to create a society that tries hard not to leave people out…To imagine how it could be different.” Artists, writers, and designers often create visions of the future in order to examine the world we live in now. The Future of Cultural Heritage is a project that I launched in collaboration with Jessica Warchall. We use science fiction and speculative design as a framework to probe the historical roles and functions of museums and imagine how they might look 300 years from now.

In November 2017, Jessica and I hosted a Future of Cultural Heritage design-thinking workshop at the Museum Computer Network conference. During the first part of the workshop, we reviewed representations of museums and cultural heritage in science fiction—from The Time Machine’s reappropriation of museum objects to Interstellar’s velvet-rope displays at Cooper Station—as well as discuss contemporary projects that use the museum or archive model to imagine alternative futures, such as the Afrofuturist explorations in the Iyapo Repository by artists Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunseinde. Fueled by this discussion, participants designed audio guide from the year 2317 using basic audio recording and web publishing tools. Each team was assigned one of several objects or landmarks in downtown Pittsburgh to respond to. By the end of the session, participants created an audio guide through a speculative fiction lens, exploring the impact of what we do and deem culturally valuable today has on our collective future histories.

Three cards display an object (Pittsburgh's three sister bridges), scenario (environmental disaster), and a thematic prompt (how do we interpret objects to tell stories?)


The Future of Cultural Heritage tour of downtown Pittsburgh
The Future of Cultural Heritage workshop slides
The Future of Cultural Heritage further reading list