How can we enjoy and examine our heritage while meeting the needs of modern communities?
For more than 30 years, the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage (IIICH) has been teaching the postgraduate experts who protect, uncover and showcase so much of our heritage around the globe. Birmingham graduates are the guardians of everything from historic buildings and landscapes to intangible memories, stories and rituals.
Building on one of the first Heritage Management postgraduate courses in the UK, its innovative World Heritage Studies, and a unique relationship with the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, the Institute is now trans-Atlantic, through a new Masters programme offered with the University of Illinois.
Natasha Downie and Cody Groat are just two of the 600 graduates working around the globe in a huge range of heritage roles, from museums to tourist organisations.
Tower of London: Natasha Downie (MA Heritage Management, 2008)
'I’ve always loved visiting historic sites. They provide unique opportunities to learn history in a way that you can’t get from being in a classroom. I also appreciate the space they provide to connect and reflect on life outside our normal routines.
I work with six royal palaces across London and Northern Ireland to bring their histories and stories to life for all our visitors. It’s a privilege to help ensure their future.
A key challenge for the Tower of London is preserving the setting around the World Heritage Site. Built to literally tower over the city, the site is becoming in danger of losing part of its significance amongst modern skyscrapers. My role involves working with local organisations to mitigate the impact of new buildings, so the tower retains its majesty, using the skills I learned at Ironbridge.
Studying at a World Heritage Site taught me that preserving and sharing our heritage doesn’t have to be in conflict. The three million visitors each year to the Tower help to fund our conservation projects. Our vision is to also share this history with those who can’t travel to us through touring events, TV, social media and podcasts. We’re continually looking for new ways to enable greater access and create modern and relevant experiences.'
Collator of oral histories: Cody Groat (MA World Heritage Studies, 2017)
'It all began with a man named John Turmel. I discovered that I lived only a few minutes away from the man who lost the most elections ever – over a hundred. I knew I had to meet him and record his story. Since then I have interviewed some of Canada’s most influential and inspiring individuals. My book Canadian Stories includes Dan Aykroyd, two former Prime Ministers, the world’s oldest drag queen, and a (reformed) drug lord.
Studying at the Ironbridge Institute, much like writing Canadian Stories, taught me that heritage can be more than a built structure. It can also relate to the stories, practices and beliefs of individuals or groups. These lessons have carried through to my current work as a PhD Candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, researching national historic sites relating to Indigenous themes. This work, and my lessons at Ironbridge, demonstrate that an officially commemorated history is hardly ever the entire story.'