How can we create new meanings for heritage in the context of accelerated climate change?

This is an interdisciplinary research project that aims to draw upon insights from three case studies, which might improve consultation processes for these and comparative communities. Using perspectives and knowledge, ideas and methods from disciplines including Film and Media, Heritage Studies, Public History, Ecological Humanities, Eco-critical and Religious Studies, the work will connect with more abstract knowledge to animate and catalyse a larger debate about what we value in testing times.

What do we mean by heritage?

Whereas popular imaginings of 'heritage' are likely to include buildings or assets with acknowledged historic value, there is an increased awareness among heritage organisations and administrations that the more 'ordinary' or 'everyday' can also be valuable to communities, embedded in local history and the texture of lived lives. Broader definitions of heritage could include a bus shelter, coastal path, or even a particular tree, because they have meaning to the people who experience them. In order to deepen our understanding of 'sense of place', we will use a multi-layered interpretation of heritage as a concept and a process relating both to the tangible as well as the intangible (values, beliefs, practices). This strategy is essential to fully appreciate the subtle and traumatic ways in which climate-change disrupts community lives and identities, with potentially painful transitions ahead.

Case Studies



Situated in the Pacific Ocean, the islands of Kiribati and the disappearance of their sandy beaches by rising sea levels, plays into the hands of a climate change discourse represented by ruined utopias. For local inhabitants, however, the story is of course much more complex.


Located in the parish of Mawnan, South Cornwall, Durgan is a small village which lies on the Helston River four miles south of Falmouth. Known in the past for its fish cellars, donkey sheds, coalyard, chapel, ale house, and sheltered valley, Durgan has a history which the community is eager to share. It is part of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a popular tourist destination. Interestingly, Durgan means 'homes of the sea dogs' or 'otters' in Cornish.


On the north-west coast of Wales and cared for by the National Trust, Porthdinllaen is in danger of succumbing to coastal erosion and rising seas. What does this mean for those that live there or have strong associations with the place?

Sara Penrhyn Jones' film 'Trouble Waters', which thinks through heritage and climate change via the experience of Kiribati inhabitants, was shortlisted for the AHRC Research in Film Awards.

All header photos on this website © Sara Penrhyn Jones