“Shaping the Past Through Heritage Development in Southern Jordan”
Harrell Family Fellowship, 2021-2022
Ghent University, Ghent (Belgium)
Charlotte Vekemans obtained her BA and MA in history at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and her MS in conflict and development studies at Ghent University, both in Belgium. She first published several articles on Belgian colonial rural policy, working at the History Research Unit of KU Leuven, before moving on to do her PhD in political science at Ghent University, focusing on heritage development. Her research deals with the integration of heritage in development projects in the Middle East, specifically in Jordan. Her research interests lie in heritage studies, politics of history, development politics, governmentality, and new materialism. She is also active as a teaching assistant for the joint Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ghent University Bachelor in Social Sciences.
Over the past two decades, heritage in Jordan has been increasingly deployed in development projects, mostly targeting tourism revenues, although increasingly also focused on the strengthening of local communities, capacity building in preservation techniques, urban regeneration, and so on. Heritage is seen as a resource and is thus employed to provide opportunities. The involvement of development agencies fits within a historical trend of aid flowing to Jordan, which has put the country high on the list of net official development aid (ODA) received per capita. The way in which these development projects that draw from the remnants of the past are shaping the present is thus informed not only by economic and social needs but also by the political incentives of the plethora of actors involved. In her research project, Vekemans aims to look at the role of cultural heritage within contemporary assemblages of economic and social development.
Her dissertation aims to provide a radically different perspective on heritage through an interdisciplinary study that brings together methods from anthropology, political science, and history. With this research, she builds on established scholarship in critical heritage studies, taking into account the critical interventions that challenge the self-evident nature of heritage to show how heritage discourse constitutes and reflects power relations, and points to the intrinsically political and economic roles of heritage.