Research Focus

The focus of the PhD Programme "Heritage Studies" includes selected areas of construction and art history, urban planning, architecture, philosphy and social sciences.

Please prepare your PhD Research Proposal specifically for one of the research areas offered. The selection of suitable PhD research projects is very competitive and depends on the current capacity utilisation of the research area.

Heritage and Transformation in Urban and Regional Planning

This focus area examines spatial planning in the context of heritage and the transformation of cities and regions. We focus not only on the challenges of a world in transition to sustainability (the so-called “Great Transformation” (WBGU) with a desperate need for a post-fossil economic and societal strategy, but also on the opportunities that it offers for cities and regions.  With regards to major issues such as climate change, demographic change, financial crises, transport decarbonization, energy transitions, and social polarization, it has become increasingly apparent that regions and cities are driving forces in processes of change and transformation. This focus area investigates the spatial dimensions of heritage within this process, which includes: the evolution of cultural landscapes, shifting living conditions, agriculture`s impact on landscape, the relationship between city and periphery, and the challenges of a climate-friendly transformation of infrastructural systems and settlement structures for all kinds of urban and regional planning. This program therefore transverses urban and regional studies, urban and landscape design, planning sciences, as well as cultural heritage studies. Strong connections also exist to social and political issues, as institutional and governance frameworks and power structures are fundamental determinants of transformation processes.

Thematic Focus Areas

  • The urban and neighbourhood scale of heritage conservation and management
  • Heritage as a topic of regional planning, development, and transformation
  • The regional scale of heritage conservation and management
  • Mobility and transport planning issues surrounding heritage preservation and development
  • Infrastructural aspects of the preservation and development of heritage; infrastructure as cultural heritage
  • Heritage as an issue in urban and regional transformation processes (demographic change, climate change, adaption of infrastructures to climate change, social and economic crises …)
  • Social and political science topics of relevance cultural heritage: power, institutions, conflicts, participation, justice and governance
  • Urban and landscape design issues concerning heritage
  • Implications of intangible, digital, natural, and other forms of heritage in urban and regional transformation processes
Tangible Heritage in the Context of Globalisation

This focus area examines the multifaceted issues related to tangible or built heritage in the context of various aspects of globalization, including transformation processes, cultural significance, global tourism, migration, and environmental threats.

Built heritage, as a material expression of great value, is a cultural practice that can also be protected as a living tradition. This focus area shall explore the World Heritage Convention and how it offers for opportunities of development, how it creates limitations and poses obstacles for the conservation of built and expressed cultural heritage. Other focus areas within the framework of the World Heritage Convention will include site development and management, cultural change as a result of migration processes, and post-industrial heritage site nominations, paying particular attention to analysing concepts such as Outstanding Universal Value or the authenticity of tangible heritage and how they have changed in the face of these developments.

Interesting research fields for PhD students are also emerging due to the growing number of nominations of industrial heritage sites, many of which still lack long-term utilization concepts. Moreover, there is an array of typologies of heritage sites that have not yet been intensively explored, such as vernacular heritage or the categories of serial and trans-boundary nominations. 

Sustainable Protection and Innovative Concepts of Heritage

The management of World Heritage sites is supposed to meet UNESCO’s standards of economic, social, ecological and cultural sustainability. However, these four spheres of sustainability may conflict with each other, as the practice of World Heritage management and use frequently shows. In particular, the economic exploitation of tangible heritage can be at the expense of social and ecological sustainability. A central issue, also in this focus area, is the fact that World Heritage, because it has increasingly become a marketed product, is less and less treated as a cultural good. This has significant consequences, especially for the management of World Heritage sites. The balancing act between the tight and strict conservation regulations and the demands on use and accessibility, which World Heritage site managers have to satisfy, is becoming increasingly difficult. This also applies to the goals of UNESCO to involve all so-called stakeholders in nomination and management processes, as well as to the communication between stakeholders, and their training and efforts in capacity-building. Regarding communication between different actors of World Heritage, the role of conflict-mediation becomes increasingly important and represents a promising approach in the field of heritage management to focus on. Research projects in this area, for instance on the potential and limits of participatory approaches, on conservation-compatible urban and regional planning, or on the development of “affordable” housing options, are an interdisciplinary challenge. All conflicts and potential innovative solutions shall be examined taking into account future macro- or micro-economic, ecological and demographic developments. Innovative management structures and concepts shall be developed on the basis of participatory approaches, and shall be combined with modern urban planning concepts, for instance in relation to historic city centres. This focus area is therefore closely connected to studies in management, but aims at the same time at urban and regional development.

Thematic Focus Areas:

  • Conflicts between the necessity to protect historic sites and usage demands of local communities and mass tourism.
  • Enhancing the participation of local communities in the protection and use of tangible cultural heritage.
  • Research on new strategies of UNESCO for achieving a more balanced World Heritage list – challenges of serial transnational nominations, cultural “routes” etc.
  • Research on new concepts of sustainable development concepts of public private partnership, entrepreneurship, Elenor Ostrom and the Commons
  • (International) mediation as a tool to solve conflicts between different actors in the field of World Heritage
  • Impact of migration on the cultural heritage of mobile and sedentary population groups.
  • Impact of migration and globalisation on cultural diversity.
  • Research on cultural diversity in concepts of sustainable development.
  • Research on the relation between cultural conservation and cultural development in sustainable development programs.
  • Research on the mitigation of unsustainable industrial cultural impacts within heritage site management frameworks which are based on principles of sustainability.
Cultural Landscapes

In this focus area, the diversity of heritage in cultural landscapes shall be examined. According to the definition of UNESCO, the concept of cultural landscapes embraces landscapes that have been designed and created intentionally by man for aesthetic reasons, landscapes that have organically evolved, as well as so-called “associative cultural landscapes.” One of the questions to be discussed is how urban landscapes are, or can be, integrated into this concept. Potential research topics in this regard also include (post-) industrial regions such as Lower Lusatia. It shall also be discussed which cultural practices shape landscapes in an especially lasting way. Additionally, the theoretical debate about the relationship between culture and nature will be further developed. One important issue in this regard are the cultural expressions, ways of life and needs of indigenous peoples living in World Heritage areas, a subject area that enables interesting interconnections with focus area 2, Intangible heritage. Generally, studies in focus area 4 will investigate the relationship between land use and biodiversity, and between cultural landscapes and cultural diversity. The studies are supposed to build on the international discussion, in the framework of UNESCO, that cultural landscapes should be put under special protection if they are particularly distinctive examples of one or another aspect of diversity.

Thematic Focus Areas

  • Continuation of the theoretical debates on the relationship between nature and culture.
  • Potentials and limitations of integrating urban landscapes into the concept of cultural landscapes.
  • Scientific and theoretical foundations of the contemporary concept of cultural landscapes.
  • The necessity and possibility of designating post-industrial landscapes (e.g. mining areas) as cultural landscapes.
  • Ecological agriculture and (partial) renaturalization to support redesignation of agricultural landscapes as cultural landscapes.
  • Research on the cultural dimensions of natural heritage.
  • Research on the relation between land use and biodiversity.
  • Research on the relation between cultural landscapes and cultural diversity.
  • Research on the relation between sustainable use of cultural landscapes and tourism
Mediation of Heritage Through Innovative Technologies

This focus area connects to the strategic goals of UNESCO related to lifelong learning and computer-assisted learning as well as to the UNESCO Programme Memory of the World, which protects documentary heritage in all its forms. Through its focus on the use of innovative technologies this focus area is closely related to research on information and communication technologies developed at BTU. In this way, a bridge is built between cultural sciences focusing on the concept of heritage, and BTU’s academic programmes in information technology. The focus area Mediation of Heritage through Innovative Technologies is – as outlined by its title – innovative in itself. Research related to the Memory of the World Programme is innovative due to its link to the notion of digital heritage and the use of digital technology for preserving and accessing documentary heritage and also because of recent developments within UNESCO that aim at promoting the programme through education and academic research. Additionally, dissertations in this focus area can be approached as cross-cutting themes, regarding the other focus areas. For instance, the tourism industry has shown interest in the question of whether and how computer simulations of World Heritage sites can enhance the actual experience of visitors to a site. In this regard, theory and practice of innovative communication strategies for heritage sites can be examined, on the basis of studies in the educational sciences related to lifelong learning or of applied research related to user management.

Potential topics could include strategies for the development of the Memory of the World Programme and its relation to other UNESCO heritage conventions; mediation of heritage through mobile audiovisual user devices such as mobile phones, Ipods, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), or RFID-based (Radio Frequency Identification) visitor management devices; identification of best practices and analysis of reasons for their success from the perspective of educational and cultural sciences; analysis of the effects of heritage mediation on the understanding of heritage, whether it is lasting or trivializing; revisiting research on interactive learning, which was conducted at BTU in the late 1990s in the framework of an EU project involving the universities of Zaragoza (Computer graphics), Poznan, and Wales; and examination of IT communication strategies in view of their usefulness in different social and global environments.

Thematic Focus Areas:

  • Strategies for developing and promoting the Memory of the World Programme
  • Relevance of documentary heritage in the context of other heritage programmes
  • Technology-related questions of documentary heritage preservation and access
  • Theory and practice of innovative mediation strategies for heritage sites.
  • Elaboration of innovative concepts for mediation in the field of heritage and heritage education
  • Development of typologies of mediation strategies in a heterogeneous environment of sociological/technical preconditions and the needs of heritage sites.
Heritage and Conflict

This focus area is concerned with the problem of safeguarding cultural values embodied in buildings, monuments, places and all types of urban structures compromised by armed conflict.

The destructive effects of war, and particularly the deliberate targeting of cultural assets, constitute an exceptional challenge for Heritage Conservation. The general principles of retaining cultural significance by continuous care and by minimal intervention may seem of little use when one is faced with catastrophic and wide-spread damage. Experience since World War II has shown that post-war rebuilding of historic cities has, all too often, resulted in a 'Second Destruction' even more intense than the first, with valuable fabric and structures removed to make way for wholesale rebuilding, often on a much larger scale and on different street patterns. Furthermore, archaeological fabric that is sometimes thousands of years older than anything visible above ground has often fallen victim to such rebuilding schemes. All these activities have frequently destroyed or seriously reduced the cultural identity and spirit of historic places.

Thematic focus areas

  • Cultural heritage in postwar recovery
  • Postwar reconstruction and the recovery of cultural heritage
  • Destruction of cultural assets by war and its impact on group identities
  • Safeguarding of archaeological layers in places under rebuilding
  • Safeguarding and preservation of ruins
  • Documentation and assessment of war-damaged cultural heritage
  • Disaster and risk management for heritage sites
  • Sociocultural aspects of destroyed cultural heritage