Peter Bille Larsen, anthropologist

Year in review: CDH Academic Guest

Peter Bille Larsen’s academic guest appointment with the College of Humanities (CDH) ran from January, 2021 through April, 2022. Despite its overlap with the pandemic, both Larsen and Florence Graezer Bideau of the Institute for Area and Global Studies (IAGS) were thrilled with the extent to which they were able to forge new synergies at the intersection of anthropology and cultural heritage studies.

Larsen and Graezer Bideau’s collaboration resulted in two interdisciplinary and international conferences; a new collaboration with the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), and the Swiss Institute in Rome; and several publications for both expert and non-expert audiences.

From Lausanne to Rome and beyond

During his time at CDH, Larsen, a senior lecturer and researcher in anthropology and sustainability at the University of Geneva, focused on developing a stronger conceptualization of contemporary heritage practices, and how they are used in creative processes and innovation. The first conference co-organized by Larsen and Graezer Bideau, “The Heritage, Creativity and Innovation Nexus” (EPFL, Lausanne, November 2021), invited participants to develop a new theoretical framework for understanding contemporary production of cultural heritage. Meanwhile, “Governing Heritage and Creativity: frictions, avenues and questions” (Swiss Institute, Rome, April 2022) was aimed at heritage practitioners and took a more hands-on approach. 

As part of its practical focus, the conference in Rome included a field trip to the restoration site of the Mausoleum of Augustus. As Larsen explains, this case study helped emphasize role of a multi-stakeholder perspective in heritage governance worldwide.

“It’s about recognizing heritage transformations as a complex governance field requiring reflections on many different levels. Heritage recognition is not about freezing artifacts in time; it involves a range of transformations, debates, conversations, and conflicts.”

Challenging the status quo

Both Graezer Bideau and Larsen emphasize the importance of CDH’s Visiting Professor program (VPP) for accelerating efforts to build communities of practice among researchers and experts working across different domains.

“There is really a need for schemes like the VPP, because launching projects and collaborations takes time. Thanks to this initiative, we had a great experience with a lot of outcomes, and it shows the impact and intellectual ground that can be covered. I am extremely grateful personally for this opportunity, in addition to its value at an institutional level,” says Graezer Bideau.

As for Larsen, in addition to the bilateral and international synergies forged through the two conferences, he believes his appointment has strengthened institutional ties between EPFL and the University of Geneva. Although his appointment at CDH may have officially ended, his collaboration with Graezer Bideau continues, and they have several ongoing projects and publications in progress. He credits his experience at CDH with creating valuable space to challenge conventional beliefs and narratives about cultural heritage

“Taking the time to explore notions that are not business-as-usual, but that are contested, and trying to work in uncharted territories; these things come with risks, but they are exactly what we should be doing in research. In one way my appointment has ended, but in another I feel we have just begun.”