Museums and World Heritage Sites: a New Path to Dialogue and Development

Recently, nine museums associated with six World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia built an ‘imaginary museum’ featuring artefacts and other in-situ elements from the World Heritage Sites concerned. The exhibition is the result of an unprecedented joint venture bringing together the sites of Angkor, Preah Vihear (Cambodia), Vat Phou (Laos), My Son, the Ho Citadel and the Thang Long Citadel (Viet Nam).

Through the two years of collaboration, the museums share with their public new narratives on the “connected history” of the World Heritage Sites and their builders: it recounts the interactions occurred over the course of history among the Funan and the Chenla, the Angkor kingdoms of the Khmer, the Champa, and the Dai Viet dynasties of Viet Nam. The contents also highlight the various linkages of the sub-region with the outside world, notably with India, China, the Mediterranean and East Asia, which led to the complex process of historical transformation of their societies. Intangible aspects such as local beliefs and ornamentation techniques are also developed by each museum in the part specific to their collections, in an attempt to make their display more relevant to the local public.  

Often perceived from national perspective and promoted as glorious symbol by national authorities and in common heritage discourse, World Heritage Sites - by focusing on their “outstanding universal value” and associated heritage assets including immaterial aspects - can also offer clues to diversify heritage discourse by addressing different audiences.

This pilot project will offer a new model of heritage discourse construction, by associating museums as mediator between the World Heritage Sites and their various stakeholders. It will also showcase that such demonstration of connectivity opens new window of regional cooperation, in an area where civil conflicts and conflict in the wider region have left deep scars on many of the societies, with the region’s political, social and cultural institutions still being rebuilt with many similar issues to overcome.

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