As a young ‘archaeologist in training’ during the late 1990s and early 2000s Erin became aware, quite early on, that her intense interest in the past was fundamentally linked to her interest in the people, societies, and the cultures that created these pasts. After working as a field archaeologist in several different countries her interest in archaeology expanded to a more comprehensive interest in Cultural Heritage.
While working in Cambodia as a heritage consultant, the importance of people and community in understanding, celebrating, and safeguarding heritage became explicitly clear. Cultural heritage is intrinsically linked to the communities within which that heritage exists. Without people – past and present communities and cultures – the heritage we celebrate would not exist and would have no value. Furthermore, to ensure the long-term protection of heritage sites, the local communities must become the primary stewards and benefactors of these heritage sites. Yet without the necessary skills and training this is difficult to achieve. Unfortunately, in developing countries there are few, if any, resources available to ensure that local communities are able to acquire the critical skills and training necessary to sustainably manage their cultural heritage.
In Cambodia, an impoverished country still dealing with the after effects of civil war and genocide, few people are equipped with the skills, education, training, or capacity necessary to strategically manage and benefit from the existence and protection of heritage sites. Overwhelmingly, heritage conservation and management programs taking place in the country have historically been, and continue to be, managed by international organizations. Ultimately, for Cambodia’s cultural heritage to stand the tests of time, this heritage needs to be managed by Cambodian’s themselves. As such, they must be equipped with the skills, training, and education to fulfill this role. In an effort to assist in filling this resource gap, the idea for the Heritage Management Field Program was conceived. Furthermore, Erin recalled her experiences transitioning from archaeology to cultural heritage and the desire/need to for the opportunity to gain practical, hands on, international experience in heritage management; similar to archaeological field schools. By creating an international Heritage Management Field Program (HMFP) in Cambodia, both needs could be fulfilled – the provision of comprehensive professional heritage management training for Cambodians, and a ‘field program’ that would provide international students with hands-on real world heritage management experience.
With the support of friends, family, volunteers, and heritage experts the Integrated Heritage Project was created and launched in early 2015. The first field season for the HMFP will take place in June 2016.