"Marginalised Maritime Heritage in Belfast’s Port Communities" (Dr Laura Ferguson)

Belfast has a rich industrial maritime heritage. Its port was once one of Europe’s busiest trading centres and at its peak the city dominated the global shipbuilding industry, boasting the largest shipyard in the world, Harland and Wolff. Despite the loss of the industry, shipbuilding remains a central feature of Belfast’s heritage, particularly in East Belfast where the shipyards were located. This heritage is shared by communities and can be an integral part of their culture and collective identity.

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Joanna Rodgers
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Like many former industrial areas, Belfast Port has been redeveloped to support 21st century economic, social and cultural needs.  This redevelopment is not limited to physical structures but also includes heritage redevelopment, formed on a neutral Titanic narrative that both overrides pre-existing community tensions and can be readily exploited for tourism revenue.  Alternative or contested maritime heritages still exist on the periphery and are often an integral part of local identity.  As communities are marginalised from the space, place and identity of the port area, however, these heritages are undermined and at risk.

Research on the marginalised maritime heritage of Belfast Port was undertaken as part of the Preserving and Sustainably Governing Cultural Heritage and Landscapes in European Coastal and Maritime Regions (PERICLES) project.  PERICLES is an EU-funded research and innovation project running until 2021, with the overall aim of developing and demonstrating a comprehensive framework for sustainable, participatory governance of cultural heritage in European coastal and maritime regions.  The Belfast Port case study has explored tensions between dominant and counter heritages in the port area and how tactics involving space, place and identity are mobilised to produce cultural heritage in marginalised port communities.

The seminar presentation will open with a discusstion of issues surrounding waterfront redevelopments and port heritage in Europe, with a particular focus on Belfast.  Findings of interviews with local heritage professionals and experts are then presented.  These interviews reflect on maritime cultural heritage development in Belfast, including the extent and ways in which regeneration initiatives have changed the heritage landscape, protected structures and provided opportunities for shipyard and docks communities to reflect their history on the site.

This is followed by an analysis and categorisation of maritime cultural heritage markers in the port area of East Belfast.  Building on a framework developed by Al Rabady (2013), these maritime heritage markers are categorised on the basis of a duality approach.  This provides clear understanding of contested heritage and guides towards constructing a balance to reconcile official and civic heritages for more inclusive waterfront heritage development.  An alternative civic-oriented port heritage that promotes and respects local community values and identity is proposed.  This reflects the core PERICLES principle of participatory governance, which is grounded in theories of deliberative democracy, plural values and co-production.

Dr Laura Ferguson, Queens University Belfast


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