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Mads Daugbjerg


Mads Daugbjerg
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An anthropology of heritage, commemoration and tourism

My main work concerns the contemporary uses of the past, the formations of heritage, and the dynamics of tourism. I study these issues through anthropological methods and approaches, though always in dialogue with other disciplines and wider literatures, including the interdisciplinary field of critical heritage studies. I have worked primarily in Western contexts, with extensive fieldwork experience from Denmark and the United States plus shorter engagements in different European heritage and commemoration settings. Some of my projects are driven strictly by theoretical interests, while others contain important ‘applied’ dimensions, as I strive to contribute to the tackling of social and societal issues whenever I can. I enjoy and welcome collaborations with non-university partners.

My teaching and supervision duties have been spread across five different Aarhus University programs over the years (Anthropology, Human Security, Experience Economy, Sustainable Heritage Management and Museology). I have supervised six PhD students (three as main supervisor, three as co-supervisor) and more than 50 Master’s projects. On top of my research and teaching experience, I have considerable managerial experience from serving as Head of Department at the Department of Anthropology 2018-21 and, prior to that, directing Aarhus University’s PhD program for Anthropology, Global Studies and the Study of Religion for almost three years.


Research profile 

A key ambition of mine is to understand, through ethnographic attention to particulars, how human societies comprehend, shape and cope with ‘their’ past. I am fundamentally interested in how and why certain places, things and histories come to be viewed as valuable traces from earlier epochs while others do not. This involves a series of core anthropological questions; for example, about the scale and limit of human collectivities (who ‘we’ are, what ‘our’ past means); about time and temporal orientation (what ‘history’ amounts to, how time is experienced, how social memory works); and about relations to land and territory (how it feels to belong, what borders are and do). Analytically, I pay detailed heed to bodily experience and sensorial engagements with landscapes, objects and material structures. However, I also consider how such experiences are always-already framed by layers of accumulated discourse and symbolic meanings.

Several of my projects have focused on the legacies of war and their current significance. For example, I have studied the present-day life around historical battlefields such as Gettysburg (USA), Dybbøl (Denmark) and Gallipoli (Turkey). I have explored the meanings, atmospheres and power of specific sites, both as these are ‘officially’ framed and staged, for example in museums or through national and international heritage bodies, but also through ethnographic engagements with a range of non-professional groups and actors. For instance, during my American fieldwork I joined a group of historical re-enactors as well as a school of ‘ghost hunters’ as I attempted to grasp their sometimes radically alternative approaches towards the American Civil War and its significance today.

A main strand of my work deals with processes of reconstruction (of buildings, landscapes, battles, traditions, values, etc.) of various kinds, and with the seemingly universal human desire to revive selected bits of the past in some form or another. Reconstructions are interesting as objects of ethnographic study because they are typically very concrete and tangible – a historical structure, a pilgrim route, a camp from the War in Afghanistan – but invariably involve complex questions about memory, time and social relevance, and about the present-day constitution and reconstitution of borders and differences. They also fundamentally entail attention to different ways of knowing and of what it means, in different contexts, to ‘know’ – and to ‘experience’ – something, not least in settings where historical truths are contested.



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