Case Study: Linking Communities to Historic Environments (LCHE) Research Review

Debate over the theory, ethics, politics and practice of public and community archaeology needs to be grounded through research analysing the nature and circumstances of such engagement, past and present.

The Linking Communities to Historic Environments project was a six-month research review, undertaken by RCAHMS in 2011 and funded under the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme. The review aimed to identify historic changes in community engagement that have occurred over a period of up to 50 years. Over this period, the roles of public and third sector heritage organisations have changed and their approaches to community engagement and the historic environment have been many and varied. The LCHE review has revealed differences between ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches, and illustrated the changing nature of ‘connectivity’ between communities and their broader historic environment. There are obvious tensions and challenges when it comes to community engagement projects and the review sought to identify these.

During the course of the research review a number of conclusions emerged, including:

  • While there is a plethora of public and community engagement research and research review material available, little of this is specific to the historic environment and to community engagement in Scotland – literature about community engagement, within the historic environment sphere, is often based on world experiences that do not necessarily easily compare to Scottish experiences;
  • The manifold demands of communities need to be met through institutional changes within the historic environment sector and institutional change combined with external partnership working could improve meeting the demands for community engagement;
  • Research into community-led, historic environment projects and undertaking increased community-based engagement through Scotland’s historic environment will contribute to the five Strategic Objectives of Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework;
  • Future directions could include creating engagement networks on three levels – national, regional and local – by working with national organisations, regional councils and networks and at parish and local community-council scale, respectively;
  • The historic environment can be used as a tool to engage a far broader range of people and consideration needs to be given to how inclusiveness might be extended through more imaginative projects and partnerships, which draw in skills and expertise from outwith the historic environment sector. In this way, capacity can be built not only within the discipline and profession but also within communities themselves.

Scotland’s Rural Past survey at Torrans, Mull, producing a survey of the archaeological remains, © RCAHMS

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