The PHOENIX project (Parallel Heritage Of European uNIversities) has been designed to explore the content and audience of the cultural heritage of Una Europa universities.

Since the nineteenth century most European universities have been imitating the German model in gathering collections of artefacts, whether in the field of mineralogy, botany, anatomy, art, or archaeology. These collections have been widely used for teaching and research activities for decades. With the advent of new technologies and the access to larger study collections, however, the use of university collections has dramatically declined since the end of the Second World War, and university museums have suffered from a drastic reduction in financial and human resources that would have been required for curating them. This long-term neglect has, in some cases, resulted in the permanent damage of collections or even their loss.

However, for two decades at least now, university heritage has been a matter of renewed interest for European universities and scholars, who have started new research initiatives, including curatorial cataloguing and conservation projects that have benefitted from the creation of local, national, and international professional associations and academic networks, such as UMAC and Universeum. University heritage is now often presented as collections in several university museums, botanical gardens, libraries, or traditional ceremonies. Many university buildings across Europe are recognized and protected as heritage, be it World Heritage or national and local landmarks. In a way, these buildings and collections recount the parallel histories of knowledge and of scholarly traditions within our different national and academic settings.

University buildings, collections and museums have become an issue of scholarly interest not only from a heritage preservation perspective but also as a source for historic self-investigation and a wide range of scholarly research initiatives and projects. Trans- and interdisciplinary research on university collections has proven to be most rewarding, gathering scholars from different academic fields for the better of scientific collaboration. Such studies not only give insights into the history and origins of collections and knowledge, but also into the material culture of universities and their identities, both locally and universally. Heritage of universities represents a considerable value for the academic community (students, administrative and academic staff) as a working environment, but it also represents a major asset for the universities in terms of communication externally. University cultural heritage can indeed create a close link with local communities and contribute to the social or to the ‘third’ mission of universities.

The project PHOENIX takes into consideration this cultural heritage as an object of investigation. For centuries, universities have played a part in the development and governance of the cities that ‘host’ them. This results in their heritages, as well as their day-to-day workings, being closely intertwined. The aim of the project is twofold: 

First, to engage with a key non-academic partner, whether a neighbouring cultural institution, a community group, or an agency of city government. The objective of the exercise is to lay out connections between university heritage and the rest of society, but also to consider how university heritage could be shared among wider, non-academic audiences. This scoping exercise is designed to provoke universities to consider ways in which they can undertake research in the future about how they can be ‘good neighbours’, contributing to the wellbeing of the cities with which they have grown up over centuries.

Second, to present an overview of the current situation of museums, historical buildings, and collections in each of our institutions across Una Europa, with a particular view on how communication on university cultural heritage is developed locally and how it could possibly lead to a common Una Europa discourse on its shared heritage. The ensuing description could feed our work on PHOENIX but could also offer a basis for further projects on our university heritage within the frame of Una Europa.

As a Paris seed funding project, PHOENIX was also designed to build a network of researchers across Una Europa universities. All eight members of Una Europa are collaborating to this project. The core team is composed by: 

  • Freie Universität Berlin: Lorenz Winkler-Horacek
  • Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna: Patrizia Battilani, Valeria Zotti
  • Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie: Natalia Bahlawan, Joanna Ślaga 
  • University of Edinburgh: Norman Rodger, Niki Vermeulen
  • Helsingin Yliopisto: Anna Luhtala, Miia-Leena Tiili
  • KU Leuven: Geert Vanpaemel
  • Universidad Complutense de Madrid: Alicia Castillo, Isabel García Fernández
  • Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne: Alain Duplouy (project leader), Maria Gravari Barbas, Mariana Silva Porto (project assistant researcher)

Una Europa universities have also engaged with external partners to study and analyse how our institutions are understood and perceived by the people who live in and around their campuses. Various experiences have been explored on how university heritage can be of interest for a larger community beyond academia. Within the project PHOENIX, our partners are:

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