Heritage Management is not the ‘first preference’ for a career for most students who prefer traditional, ‘secure’ options such as engineering, medicine, banking, law, media, management, marketing, civil services, etc. The numbers of those engaged in heritage management as professionals are too few and far beyond, particularly in a country rich in cultural and natural heritage. Even among those who call it a career, most either have a family business, an inherited heritage property or some kind of a vested interest that nudges them towards this ‘occupation’.
A non-conventional’ career
“It’s a fact that most people are not even aware of what heritage management is all about. When I first informed my parents that I wished to pursue a degree in heritage management, they thought I was kidding. Upon realising I was serious, they thought I am set to ruin my life and labelled it as the worst decision of my life,” recalls Chennai-based Nithya Iyer who pursued a Master’s programme at Lincoln, UK and returned to India, just in time, before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world. “It’s not funny the number of options that have opened up for me after my education. I am sure my parents will understand in a few years that I did the right thing,” says Nithya.
With a degree in heritage management, one is qualified to work as a ‘heritage manager’. “The job of a heritage manager is to manage and conserve heritage sites. It also entails providing supervised access to heritage sites that could include ancient monuments, historic structures and buildings, museums, etc. My dream is to work at a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” says Kolkata-resident Anandita Ghosh. “My mother is a history professor and I developed an interest in history early on. She would show me documentaries on heritage sites around the world and I knew I want to work on one of them. So next year after I finish my graduation, I will be applying for a post-graduation programme in heritage management.”
Myriad specialisations and opportunities
There are several programmes offered by colleges, universities and education institutes in India and across the world. Most such degrees and diploma programmes are offered at a post-graduation level in several related fields, including: Conservation, Preservation and Heritage Management; Ancient History and Archaeology; Archaeological Anthropology; Architectural Conservation; Museology and Conservation; Urban Design, Sustainability, and Conservation; Heritage Tourism and Travel Management; World Heritage Studies; Conservation of Cultural Heritage; Cultural Tourism; Religion and Cultural Heritage; Heritage Studies; and some recent additions such as Digital Cultural Heritage; Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage, etc.
Bhubaneswar-based Education Consultant Ravi Mohanty explains, “There are several lucrative options after one finishes a degree or diploma programme in a field related to history and heritage management. One can work with heritage trusts, independently-owned houses and heritage properties, heritage hotels, churches and cathedrals, conservation organisations, museums, tourism operators, civil society, local authorities, etc.” Apart from private entities, archaeological sites and museums, a degree in heritage management or a related field opens a sea of opportunities to work with local, state and central government departments and authorities working towards conservation and preservation of historic sites and monuments.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is an Indian government agency attached to the Ministry of Culture that is ‘responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country’. The ASI administers more than 3,500 ancient monuments, archaeological sites and remains of national importance including palaces, forts, temples, mosques, churches, tombs, cemeteries, step-wells, rock-cut caves, ruins of ancient civilisations, etc.
The ASI has several departments where opportunities exist. These include: Excavation, Restoration, Monuments, Museums, Documentation, Conservation and Preservation, Publication, Photography, Architectural Surveys, Underwater Archaeology, etc.
Academia plays a vital role
In India, Ahmedabad has been a pioneer when it comes to conservation and preservation of heritage where academic institutions have been proactive in initiating dialogue, setting pertinent discourse, conducting national and international seminars and conferences. All these are designed to increase awareness and further discussions on issues related to heritage management, conservation and contemporary issues.
Students from across India and around the world make a beeline to these world-renowned academic institutions. These institutions strive towards fostering critical discourses on the broader domain of heritage and promoting a holistic heritage management approach as guidance for sustainable and just social development. “It’s important to make academics practical, contemporary and socially relevant. There is no point in just reading books on history and not understanding why things are the way they are. It’s important to draw co-relations and interpret history to help the society today. I wish to use my education for the upliftment of society,” says Guwahati-based Ananya Bora enrolled in a heritage studies programme in Ahmedabad.
Academic institutions across India focus on development of diverse aspects of heritage management. These include understanding, planning, managing human habitats and ruins of ancient civilisations and deepening the understanding of human settlements and cultures. Ananya maintains, “Most such academic programmes endeavour towards creating professionals and professionalism in a field that is perceived to be highly ‘unprofessional’ and ‘unorganised’.” There is a new role that the academia has undertaken in the last few decades. Academic institutions doling out degree and diploma programmes in heritage management, history, conservation architecture, etc. often take up ‘advisory’ positions in projects that aim to make urban habitats and settlements liveable and sustainable.
Government initiatives offer opportunities
In 2018, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the Fifth International Biennial Conference of Indian Heritage Network (IHCN). At the event, he said, “along with development of modern amenities and facilities, our cities should also be vibrant with the socio-cultural life, centered around heritage, art and craft. There are several cities in India and abroad where this has been done and I am hopeful that the conference will be a platform for exchange of ideas and best practices in this field. At the same time, I also hope more cultural sites of Odisha to come into the purview of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. My Government is committed towards taking steps towards identifying, preserving and protecting these sites through listing and documentation, preparation of tourism promotion and conservation plans and developing heritage resource management plan.”
There are several Indian states such as Odisha, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana that are promoting tourism, particularly ‘heritage tourism’ to stabilise income generation through tourism. Such programmes and initiatives often hire candidates with a diploma or degree in inclusive tourism, tourism management, heritage travel and tourism management, etc. There are several institutes and B-schools that offer such specialised management programmes.
Outside India, an academic background in heritage management or related fields opens up opportunities around the world. There are several international organisations, international think-tanks, heritage trusts, conservation organisations, museums and many UN affiliated agencies that offer rewarding opportunities. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre established in 1992 is the focal point and coordinator within UNESCO for all matters related to World Heritage. Through its various programmes and internship opportunities, thousands of students get a chance to experience and explore and further their interest in heritage management.
In times to come, especially after the COVID-19 crisis, the deciding factors in heritage management would be capacity to digitise, ability to use information technology, social media platforms and apps. Career options in heritage management and affiliated fields will only increase and get better with time.