The EU wants to become climate neutral by 2050. This transformation requires not only an institutional, political and economic transformation, but also a cultural one. A democratically-supported green transition–which we understand to mean a whole society shift away from the use of fossil fuels towards carbon neutral economies–requires a new conceptualization of both past and future and a shared sense of urgency and collective trust. 

PITCH seeks to explore how cultural heritage can provide Europe’s citizens with confidence to collectively tackle the many challenges on the road towards a carbon neutral society. Despite important work in the energy humanities[1], the historical impact and contemporary presence of fossil fuels, including gas, oil, and coal, in cultural heritage practice remains opaque.

Petrocultures–a term used to describe how social imaginaries, economic discourses and understandings of modernity are shaped by petroleum–need to be materialised in our public space using new curatorial and artistic interventions. We argue that it is only through the introduction of new practices and conceptualisations across Europe’s museum and heritage field which foreground, narrate and contextualise the contemporary legacies of the fossil-fuel era that we will provide confidence in transitioning away from fossil-fuels as part of an urgent, society-wide green transition.

PITCH brings together academic and cultural sector organisation partners in six countries to spur on the processes by which humanities and arts scholarship and public interventions can strengthen citizen engagement with the constantly changing nature of cultural heritage and its relationship to past and present petrocultures to lay the groundwork for rapid, society-wide European green transitions away from a reliance on fossil-fuels. We base our project and pilot activities in the Arts and Humanities, which are academic disciplines especially equipped to be able to analyse and make sense of human cultures to understand how certain cultural practices emerge and change over time. We examine the power of narratives: how the stories we tell about ourselves, and our pasts shape our actions in the present and future. We build directly off of the team’s expertise in critical heritage studies, environmental humanities, and heritage management, including work on previously funded EU projects such as the MSCA ITN CHEurope and SwafS project EnviroCitizen. PITCH focuses on repurposing existing and future forms of heritage to facilitate just future green transitions.

We will investigate this in three areas: (1) how petroculture is reflected in and intersects with current heritage practices and how this heritage reflects social, economic, and political changes over time (WP1); (2) how to reinterpret cultural heritage through a petroculture frame to historically and socially contextualise fossil-fuel cultures and thus foster citizen confidence in green transitions (WP2-WP4); (3) how to develop innovative practices and guidelines for heritage practitioners and policymakers to narrate heritage within changing environments and the context of green transitions (WP5).

Our innovative and significant multi-site pilot events will provide a model for employing cultural heritage to creatively engage citizens to spur on environmentally-transformative shifts in both individual and collective organisational/institutional behaviours.

[1] See for example: Macdonald, G. and Stewart, J., eds (2023) Routledge Handbook of Energy Humanities. Routledge; Szeman, I., Wenzel, J. & Yaeger, P., eds. (2017) Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment. Fordham University Press; various publications by the After Oil collective; Balkan, S. and Nandi, S., eds (2021) Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere. Penn State University Press