In 1971, the French museologist Hugues de Varine invented the term ‘ecomusée’ to express a new approach to the understanding, promotion and management of a community’s interactions with its heritage and place. Since the 1970s, both the idea and the practice of the ecomuseum have developed further and come to provide an important alternative view of what ‘place’, ‘cultural landscape’ and ‘heritage’ are (1). Ecomuseums are interesting as end-products, but more so for the inclusive and open-democratic processes through which they are created. These processes are often intended to meet demands for development which meets the needs of all (including local communities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities); to encourage cultural and ecological conservation and management at landscape scale, and; to achieve this through interpretive practices which are co-defined and developed with local people for their own benefit. Ideally, an ecomuseum is a landscape, a territory with shared characteristics and values in the care of local communities. It emphasises ‘local distinctiveness’ and the uniqueness of a place, as defined by the interaction of nature and culture and the ‘accumulation of story upon history upon natural history’ (2).
Such an initiative is the Vjosa/Aoos River Ecomuseum (3), based on the water catchment of the Vjosa/Aoos River in the borders of Greece and Albania. The project – which began in 2012 – was initially inspired by the river itself, recognising it as a distinctive ecological asset which is valued across the community and as a cultural heritage which links the diverse cultural groups of this border region (4). This resource offers great opportunities for community dialogue and for celebrating diversity, but a range of socio-economic imbalances present obstacles to the realisation of this potential and restrict the ability of local communities to develop on a sustainable basis.
Overcoming these obstacles has not been easy, but the landscape approach taken to the development of the Vjosa/Aoos Ecomuseum has enabled people on both sides of the border to develop shared narratives and to re-invent or reaffirm their beliefs and identities in relation to their economic and natural environments. The process has allowed people to share their inspirations with each other, take difficult decisions about their future together and develop their area collaboratively.
It is the aim of this paper to: a) discuss the process followed in the Vjosa/Aoos case; b) establish the lessons learned; c) evaluate the future potential of this initiative to achieve people-centred and locally-specific development that can improve the lives of communities around the Vjosa/Aoos, and; d) critically assess whether this approach can contribute towards the fulﬁlment of a number of goals for Sustainable Human Development.
(1) Davis, P. & Corsane, G. 2014. Communities, Heritage, and New Cultural Landscapes, in: Roe, M. & Taylor, K. (eds) New Cultural Landscapes. London & New York: Routledge
(2) Clifford, S. & King, A. 2006. England in Particular. London: Hodder & Stoughton, p. xi
(3) The Vjosa/Aoos River Ecomuseum. Available at: www.ecomuseum.eu
(4) Sorotou, A (ed) 2014. The Vjosa/Aoos River Ecomuseum: Talking about our place. Athens: MedINA