Report on the scientific conference Lost/Looked for/Tamed Cultural Heritage, Kielce, 4-6 July 2019

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This scientific conference was organized by The School of Pedagogy and Art of Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, The Polish Section of International Organization of Folk Art (IOV/UNESCO) and The Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce. Its interdisciplinary considerations focussed on analysis of multi-level phenomena comprised by the category of „cultural heritage”. some participants of this conference represented the academic world: Polish Academy of Sciences, University of Łódź, Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Masaryk University in Brno, Kursk State University, University of Opole, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, University of Silesia in Katowice, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Wrocław University, State High Vocational School in Nowy Targ, State High Vocational School in Sanok, and the Kraków chapter of Polish Ethnological Society. The museums which conduct research work were represented by  participants from Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Łódź, State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw and The Open Air Museum in Kielce. Other active participants in this conference included teachers whose interest in cultural heritage resulted in presentation of their papers in sessions of the conference. Such variety of milieux represented by the conference participants made profound their discussions concerning problems of cultural heritage.

   The majority of 42 papers delivered at the conference pertained to its central theme, i.e. lost, looked for and saved meanings and values of culture. The papers concerned select areas of history of culture both analyzed by scholars and passed from generation to generation in processes of enculturation. Each paper made implicit or explicit references to the cultural tradition (understood in various ways) which determined the culture of the second decade of the 21st century. The papers which dealt with meanings lost in contemporary culture were based on ethnographic materials from the 19th and 20th centuries. Those concerning looked for cultural heritage put emphasis on the present – for reasons not merely sentimental but also commercial and educational. Commercial interest in local forms of cultural specificity favours promotion of ethnographic regions and treatment of cultural tradition as a treasury which inspires seeking cultural uniqueness. As two opposite tendencies of changes in culture, globalization and glocalization denote not only search for identity through positive valuation of products of local culture but also highlight „a sense of familiarity” in the consciousness of local communities. The content tamed in culture is obviously comprised of ideas, goods, styles, values, etc., passed from generation to generation, but also spontaneously transformed in ways appropriate to satisfy increasingly varied needs of inhabitants of post-modern societies.

   Organization of the presented papers into three plenary sessions and five thematic parallel sessions reflected the thematic diversity of all the papers and problems pertaining to analyses of the functions performed by cultural heritage in them. The first plenary session, on cultural heritage in the past and today, focussed on issues of safeguarding immaterial cultural heritage; the second - on ethnographic groups as cultural heritage and treatment of the cultural heritage as the tradition which guarantees uniqueness of ethnographic groups, positively valued in local communities; and the third - on contemporary problems of cultural heritage and it emphasized the role of tradition understood as a barrier which blocks changes taking place in contemporary culture.

   Whereas the plenary sessions concentrated on various points of view and scientific theories pertaining to issues of cultural tradition, parallel sessions drew attention to the ethnographic basis of contemporary culture. Derived from empirical research, the papers presented in these sessions on the one hand dealt with material vestiges of industrial heritage (objects of technology from the 19th and 20th centuries, listed in the national register of historic monuments), and on the other – with behavioral patterns and manners (rites of passage, harvest festivals, feasts), attitudes toward the local dialect and ludic behaviours (including reconstruction of culinary heritage). Immaterial cultural heritage was the subject of two sessions which included papers dealing with  ritual cultural heritage (cults of saints and of the dead, folk demonology) and the ethnic and national minorities which cultivate their uniqueness (Podhale highlander immigrants in America, resettled inhabitants of the Bieszczady mountains, the German minority in Upper Silesia). All these many themes did not cover the complete spectrum of interesting phenomena worth studying. But they inspired participants to pose new questions and conduct further empirical research to make our understanding of cultural heritage more profound. This spirit dominated the concluding session of the conference when the participants’ discussion pointed not only to the necessity to define more precisely such concepts as heritage, folklore, folk culture, but also to create theories which would enable analysis of processes of cultural change. The essence of culture, i.e. its permanence in intergenerational transmission, is both changeable and unpredictable in the local and global dimensions. The contemporary epoch requires not only redefinitions within the traditional sphere of culture but also grounding the cultural heritage in valuable diversity of cultures as regarded by postmodernity.

   The conference Lost/Looked for/Tamed  Cultural  Heritage was held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of official activity of The Polish Section of International Organization of Folk Art (IOV) and the 40th anniversary of activity of The Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce. The jubilee nature of this conference was reflected in both its academic content and the events accompanying it. At the conference The Executive Committee of the International Organization of Folk Art was represented by Prof. Mag. Hans J. Holz, Vice-President of this international organization and chair of its Austrian Section; The Board of Polish Section of IOV – by prof. dr hab. Anna Brzozowska-Krajka, its chairperson, Dorota Świtała-Trybek, dr hab. prof. of University of Opole, vice-chair of its Section for Academic Affairs; and the members of its Board: prof. dr hab. Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska; Teresa Smolińska, dr hab. prof. of University of Opole, and Agnieszka Monies-Mizera, M.A.; and The Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce – by its Director, Mr. Maciej Obara. The concert organized at The Hammond Organ Museum (a section of The Museum of Toys and Play) celebrated the 40th anniversary of the activity of this Museum. And the banquet held in the evening of the second day of the conference enhanced these celebrations of the 30th anniversary of official activity of The Polish Section of International Organization of Folk Art. This scientific conference was concluded with the participants’ visit to The Open Air Museum in Tokarnia near Kielce. This institution, created to protect the cultural heritage of the region of Kielce, enabled the visitors to experience artefacts of the cultural past and contemporary transformations which take place in Polish regional culture. This visit to The Open Air Museum was for the conference participants both an attractive “journey back in time” and “a jump into the future” – to experience the changing culture and analyse what is comprised within the cultural tradition and contemporary cultural identity.

Halina Mielicka-Pawłowska, dr hab. prof. of Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, the principal organizer of the conference