Heritage, Archaeology, Ancestry and the Far Right

David Farrell-Banks, Lorna-Jane Richardson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The construction of collective belonging is often reliant on the use of the past. Creating a sense of group connectivity is facilitated by the assertion of a historical legitimacy, the sense of a collective ancestry (both literal and figurative) that is common to the articulated group. The growth of anti- intellectual populism and the sharpening social, cultural and political divisions of post-Brexit Britain has made cultural heritage a political ‘hot potato’ in service to the (re)construction of national identity as much as education and enlightenment. The offerings of museum exhibitions, or the results of archaeological fieldwork, are increasingly under scrutiny, and the outcome of heritage work is ‘used in ways that we neither intended, nor fully understand’ (Brophy 2018). Extreme conservative sentiment in the United Kingdom has centred the past as a battleground for contemporary national identity, nationalism and the so-called ‘culture wars’, from the reconstruction of ancient human remains via DNA evidence for migration, to the removal and reinterpretation of statues. The past is at the heart of group belonging and identity. This is particularly true of belonging constructed along lines of national identity (Guibernau 2013). As researchers working across museums, heritage and archaeology, we are drawn to the past, its role and meaning in our lives in the present, and how it can inform our conception of shared futures. This is a thread that runs through every aspect of our work.
In this short chapter, we offer some reflections drawn from our experience in archaeology, heritage and museum studies. We look at uses of the past in the discourse and recruitment tactics of far-right groups. Such groups often focus on notions of ancestry and construction of a deep historical exceptionalism for particular in-groups (i.e. white, English, Christian). Allusions to ancestry and belonging are frequently a hallmark of archaeological and heritage discourse. While there is an increasing acknowledgement that the far right appropriates the past by sections of academic archaeology (Hakenbeck 2019; Frieman and Hofmann 2019; Niklasson and Hølleland 2018), we see the continued use of potentially nationalistic discourse as an ethical priority that these fields must confront.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Ethics of Researching the Far Right
EditorsAntonia Vaughan, Joan Braune, Meghan Tinsley, Aurelien Mondon
Place of PublicationManchester, UK
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781526173898
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2024

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