With discussions about wrong street names, controversial statues or loaded colonial objects, sensitive heritage has a high topical value. It is not easy to handle this for cultural heritage institutions. The aim of the project is (1) to develop a REference Framework for dealing with Sensitive HERitage (REFSHER framework) that (2) can be applied in the collection presentation and public activities of heritage institutions so that their effects can be measured.
Sensitive heritage can be a powerful means of facilitating multiperspectivity. Multiperspectivity is an attitude that expresses the willingness to change perspective mentally. It is about the willingness to put oneself in perspective of others, both in old perspectives and in contemporary interpretations. It is also important to include the perspective of socially vulnerable groups or groups that are less socially involved. Multiperspectivity presupposes bringing together and connecting people with openness to each other's argued perspectives. In this way, multiperspectivity contributes to the development of a critical sense, respect for others and a democratic attitude. Sensitivity is time and space bound and not static and unchangeable. Watson (2016) speaks in this context of "the emotional register of the past". Heritage institutions do try to respond to the sensitivities that exist in society by creating authenticity, experience and tension, but are also wary of hyper-emotional reactions. We mainly work with publicly accepted emotions about suffering, violence and fear. However, that emotional register is not certain. The fierce discussions about controversial statues, wrong street names or the Zwarte Piet policy show that sensitivity is time and space bound. "Sensitivity" is a label that is stuck on heritage, but can fade over time to come back later. The question therefore arises as to which factors determine that something is perceived as sensitive and to what extent this is then associated with heritage.
The central research question is: What are the possibilities and limitations to realize multiperspectivity through sensitive heritage in cultural heritage institutions?
As partners in the cultural heritage field, we chose institutions that (1) have sensitive heritage in their collections and (2) offer opportunities to respond to important contemporary social issues. The following partners were found willing to actively participate:
- ADVN | archive for national movements, specifically the Flemish movement, other national and regional movements in Europe and related themes or derived from them, such as right-wing radicalism, fascism, racism, negationism, based in Antwerp;
- Kazerne Dossin - Memorial, Museum and Documentation Center on Holocaust and Human Rights, in Mechelen;
- Museum Dr. Guislain in Ghent on the history of and current discussions on psychiatry and mental health, care, and art and madness;
- AfricaMuseum in Tervuren, place of memory of a shared colonial past and a platform for meeting and dialogue with people of different generations and cultures.