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Balancing Acts - Theory and Practice of Maintaining Cultural and Natural Heritage


Enrolling in this course is possible until the 27th of January 2016, using the link at ‘registration’.


The conservation of nature and the preservation of culture alike have long and at times divergent histories, first emerging as policy concerns in Western countries in the second half of the 19th century. Since the 1970s nature conservationists and protectors of cultural traditions have joined forces because they believed they were natural allies. Numerous international instruments have been developed to protect both natural and cultural diversity. The so-called Man-and-Biosphere Reserves and the World Heritage Sites, which comprises hundreds of sites all over the world, are based on the assumption that the integrity of ecosystems and their biodiversity can be maintained while at the same time human communities, which have lived at those locations for extended periods of time, can continue to do so as long as they maintain their cultural integrity. In many cases these sites include protected area inhabited by indigenous peoples.

In this honours class we will explore the theory and practice of efforts to maintain cultural and natural heritage. We will do so, first, by analysing the policy instruments that are now widely used for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage. Second, we will take a closer look at the ‘real life situation’ in a number of these locations to explore the tensions between the aims of conserving natural and cultural heritage and the perceived limitations that the proclamation of an area as a World Heritage Site or Man-an-Biosphere Reserve imposes upon the people living in that area. In other words, managing such an area or living inside it is a ‘balancing act’. We will study a number of such balancing acts from the perspective of various disciplines, including anthropology, development sociology, heritage studies, and the disciplinary backgrounds brought to class by the students.


The course will include lectures, working groups, discussions and debate, an excursion, and a student-designed fieldwork project. Academic skills like writing, presenting, interviewing, and peer review will also be practised.

Important dates:

  • April 7, 2016 (full day): Excursion to the World Heritage Site of the Beemster

  • 28-30 April, 2016 (three full days): Fieldwork projects on the Wadden Islands to explore the balancing acts among stakeholders

  • May 12, 2016 (17.30 – 21.00): Student presentations of fieldwork projects


Thursday 24, 31 March, 14, 21 April: 15:00 – 18:00 hrs.
Thursday 12 May: 17:30 – 21:00 hrs
Thursday 7 April; full day (excursion Beemster)
Thursday – Saturday; full days (excursion Wadden Islands)


Faculty of Social Sciences and the field

Assessment method

Evaluation on the basis of participation in the classroom and reports written on the excursion and the fieldwork on one of the Wadden Islands.

Maximum number of students



Enrolling in this course is possible until the 27th of January via this link .


Dr. Henrike Florusbosch