Creativity & Cultural Labour, Memory & Heritage

Troubled Waters, Stormy Futures: heritage in times of accelerated climate change

The winter storms of 2013-2014 set new precedents of coastal damage in the UK, forcing government, heritage bodies and local communities to seriously reconsider the future management of coastal heritage. Relevant organisations were seemingly unprepared for these events, and communities were possibly surprised by what had happened, as well as by their own emotional response. Over 8200 miles away, in the low-lying island nation of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean, over 100,000 citizens face the possibility of permanent relocation due to climate change and sea-level rise which threaten homeland and heritage. Troubling in itself, Kiribati also presents an unsettling visualisation of a collective future. These diverse settings are brought together in this project through the exploration of the current and potential loss of heritage in times of accelerated climate change.

Photo Credit: Heritage Research (

The interdisciplinary research project ‘Troubled Waters’, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), was developed after a lively conversation between Sara Penrhyn Jones from the field of media communication and practice, and two academics focused on heritage, Bryony Onciul and King’s CMCI’s Anna Woodham at an AHRC early-career event in December 2013. Each of them was drawn to this ‘Care for the Future’ event by one question: how do we view, transition towards, or even shape the future, through the past? A professor in the Environmental Humanities, Kate Rigby, based (then) at Monash University in Australia, also joined this newly-formed research team.

This research project focused on three distinct sites in order to explore the effects of current and projected climate change on coastal communities: Durgan, in Cornwall, Porthdinllaen in North Wales, and Kiribati, a low-lying island nation in the Pacific Ocean.  At the same time, the project team conducted interviews with heritage organisations across the UK to find out if and how they viewed a role for themselves in communicating climate change to the public. The research also engaged with several archives and libraries to gage whether there was any current effort to proactively gather or document heritage potentially under threat from climate change, for an imagined audience in the future. Was this a feasible or desirable cultural strategy? Matthew Gordon-Clark from the State Records of South Australia worked with Anna Woodham to evaluate the current situation with archives in Kiribati.

Find out more about the project here

Watch Sara Penrhyn Jones’ film ‘Trouble Waters’, which thinks through heritage and climate change via the experience of Kiribati inhabitants here.

Photo Credit: Heritage Research (