Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Heritage research

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) continues to build upon its previous investments and enhance its work in heritage research through partnerships with other agencies, targeted funding opportunities and collaborations both in the UK and internationally.

Partners involved:
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UCL Institute of Archaeology.

The scope and what we're doing

Heritage has been identified by AHRC as one of three priority areas, alongside design and languages.

Over the past few years, we have built upon previous investments and enhanced work in this area through partnerships with other agencies, targeted funding opportunities and collaborations both in the UK and internationally.

Examples of this are:

AHRC has developed a strategy for heritage research involving leadership and support for the continued development of heritage research as a vibrant, innovative, highly collaborative and cross-disciplinary research field. It draws on insights from across the arts and humanities, as well as connecting with developments in science, technology and practice, leading to significant wider impacts and benefits both within the heritage sector and beyond.

The strategy takes a broad view of cultural heritage, incorporating, for example, the tangible, intangible, digital, intellectual, and artistic, and the connections between them, and of heritage-related processes.

The strategy also recognises that there are important research and practice issues surrounding the conceptualisation and use of the term ‘heritage’.

Strategy document

The strategy is an evolving document informed by ongoing engagement with the community. See the AHRC Heritage Priority Area Strategy.

Key priority areas

In developing the strategy, the following broad and interconnecting research themes have emerged as key areas for potential further development and opportunities.

Values and cultural heritage

For example, what counts as cultural heritage? How is it chosen? How does this change in increasingly diverse and plural societies? How does it shape identities? How and when are different types of heritage recognised, experienced, embraced, represented or ignored?

Community and public engagement, inclusion and diverse heritages

How, why and with what results do people engage with their heritage (and the heritage of others) and why does it matter to them? Whose voices get heard in decisions about heritage management and about which diverse or at-risk heritages are conserved for the future?

How can academic research be better connected with public heritage activities (citizen history and heritage) and how can this contribute to better understanding of processes such as commemoration?

Sustainable management of heritage

Are the paradigms of heritage protection that have served us well in the past equally fit to respond to the challenges of the future? What new paradigms are emerging for managing, governing, making decisions about, engaging with, safeguarding and adapting our cultural heritage in a rapidly changing world?

How does heritage management need to adapt in the face of pressures such as those from infrastructure and urban development, more mobile populations and environmental change?

Future heritages, new uses and e-use of heritages, and exploiting the potential of digital and other technologies

How can heritage be used as a resource for cultural, social and economic wellbeing beyond tourism and conservation? Can heritage help us to imagine and shape different futures for society? How can we identify, and conserve, the emergent heritages that will be of value to future generations? How can we support innovative uses of tangible and intangible heritage, and heritage skills (for example, crafts)?

Intangible, emerging, hidden and contested heritages

How might emerging forms of future heritage be identified more effectively? How are new heritage discoveries reshaping understandings of the past and of other heritages and their significance? How might intangible heritages be more sustainably conserved and exploited in the future?

How can arts and humanities research contribute to processes which uncover hidden heritages, rediscover lost heritages, make greater use of under-explored or reserve collections, understand entangled heritages and enable the re-evaluation and re-interpretation of under-valued heritages?

Changing heritage economies

How can research further enrich heritage experiences and encounters and enhance the contribution of heritage to the growth of the experience economy? How can we better realise the potential for interdisciplinary and collaborative heritage research to inspire creativity and innovation which contributes to the creative economy?

How can we better understand the role that heritage plays in cultural ecosystems and clusters, place-making, infrastructure developments and local, rural, urban and regional economic development and the digital economy?

Heritage, contested pasts and conflict

How can research inform the management of heritages at risk from conflict, fragility or aid recovery from the loss of heritage? What role does illegal trade in heritage artefacts, or the use or destruction of heritage play in conflict contexts? How is heritage appropriated or exploited in the perpetuation or prosecution of conflict? What role can heritage management and commemorative processes play in post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation processes?

Global heritages, international development and global challenges

How can heritage economies contribute to international development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to the development of aid and humanitarian strategies or cultural diplomacy?

How can research inform approaches to addressing the challenges for heritage created by international development, globalisation, rapid urbanisation, climate change, and high mobility? Can critical heritage research play a role in facilitating tri-sectoral partnerships and collaborative governance in pursuit of tackling global challenges?

Heritage Leadership Fellow – Rodney Harrison

Find out more about Rodney Harrison’s work on the programme on the Heritage Research website.

Why we're doing it

Strategic objectives and framework

Four cross-cutting and interconnected objectives are identified which will inform AHRC’s future strategy for heritage research:

  1. Further develop heritage research as an innovative and broad cross-disciplinary field.
  2. Extend collaborations, partnerships, knowledge exchange and pathways to impact in heritage research.
  3. Strengthen global interconnections in heritage research.
  4. Enhance research capability for heritage research as a cross-disciplinary and collaborative field of enquiry.

Opportunities, support and resources available

You can apply for a standard research grant at any time.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within AHRC’s remit.

There are opportunities to explore these areas within AHRC’s standard mode funding, such as networking grants, large research grants and fellowships, all of which operate without formal deadlines so proposals can be submitted at any time.

Past projects, outcomes and impact


As part of the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change (JPICH), a free workshop on the ‘Reuse and continued use of historic buildings, urban centres and landscapes’ was held in Leicester in November 2018.

The workshop provided the opportunity to showcase current research in the sub-themes of:

  • Conservation and planning
  • Diversity and communities
  • Immersive, multisensory engagement and virtual reality
  • Contested heritage

Read a report about the workshop, summarising the presentations and discussions.

You can find more resources on the Heritage Research website, including videos from events, details of previous projects, and books and other publications.

Watch videos available from Heritage Research events.

Find details of previous projects in Heritage Research case studies.

Find links to books, articles and reports.

Who to contact

Karen Buchanan, Strategy and Development Manager, Heritage


Telephone: 01793 416032

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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