A collaborative research centre, it involves academics and practitioners from the Departments of Archaeology, Anthropology, Philosophy and Law with the intention of creating long-term interdisciplinary research projects, links and publications. It also aims to provide professional training and consultancy to external bodies, and to create new learning and teaching tools within the university.
Research into cultural heritage is a discipline whose practice gives rise to significant ethical issues, including relations with indigenous peoples; professional standards and responsibilities; ethical codes; notions of value; concepts of stewardship and custodianship; meaning and moral implications of ‘cultural heritage'; who ‘owns' the past or the interpretation of it; roles and responsibilities of museums; the trade in antiquities; opportunities and problems associated with tourism; and the treatment of the dead (including repatriation). The last decades have seen an improvement in awareness about these ethical problems, and there has been a corresponding increase in the number of publications dealing with these issues.
However, a sizeable proportion of output has been unsystematic, ad hoc or little better than special pleading, and most display scant knowledge of current work in theoretical ethics. There are few dedicated research centres in the area of archaeological and cultural heritage ethics, though the need for them is great. It is arguable that awareness of ethical issues has been slower to develop in the UK than in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, where archaeological projects and the modes of exhibiting their results have sometimes encountered opposition on moral, political and legal grounds from indigenous groups; but that is certainly no reason why the first centre in the ethics of cultural heritage should not be located in the UK.
CECH was founded to respond to this call for interdisciplinary research in the ethics of archaeology and heritage, building upon the expertise of Durham archaeologists and philosophers who are already known for their work in this area. The research centre aims to reinforce the multidisciplinary research links between philosophy, archaeology, anthropology and law, and pioneer innovative approaches in applied philosophy that bring forward the impact of humanities and social sciences in the world. CECH is the first centre of its kind in the UK and Europe, and provides the opportunity to develop and lead international interdisciplinary dialogues and projects in accordance with its research focus. Its members contribute to debates about the ethics of cultural heritage, enhancing the excellence of Durham’s research community, benefiting students undergraduates and postgraduates alike.