Helaine I Silverman

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Personal profile

Research Interests

cultural heritage, cultural politics, cultural governance, cultural rights
anthropology of tourism
critical museum studies
memory, identity, nationalism
historic urban environments
architecture and the built environment
spatial theory
anthropology of death
encounters with the past as popular culture
geographical areas: Peru, Southeast Asia, England

Professional Information

I am an archaeologist with expertise in ancient south coast societies of Peru (see narrative CV). Frequent media attention to my Nasca research led me to shift away from excavation to heritage studies related to archaeology and historic urban centers. 

My heritage research focuses on the role of archaeology and ancient societies in the construction of space, place, memory, and identity in contemporary nation-states, and how the nation-state, its official agencies and manifold constituencies, as well as the global tourism industry and popular media, produce a national past, inform contemporary national identities, and generate a national “brand” through appropriation and representation of the past. My emphasis is on the intersections of local, national, and international heritage management practices with communities under conditions of globalization and tourism.

I have applied this suite of interests to an ethnographic/applied archaeology project in Cuzco, Peru since 2003. The first stage of this project concentrated on the program of a former mayor of Cuzco, Daniel Estrada (1984-1986, 1990-1995), to construct a “new Inca city” by means of a “neo-Inca” embellishment of the historic urban center accompanied by a strong cuzqueñismo discourse. I also have studied the bitter controversy over a subsequent mayor’s erection (2011) of a bronze statue of an Inca king atop the fountain in the center of the Plaza de Armas, which continues to be debated. I return frequently to Cuzco to study the evolution of the historic urban center with a focus on the complexities of local use of public space, local construction of identity, and the inexorable conquest of private space by the tourism sector.

In 2011 I worked in Phimai, a town in northeast Thailand whose ancient Khmer temple is on Thailand’s Tentative List for inscription on the World Heritage List. I documented the town prior to its inscription in terms of the built environment, its economy, popular attitudes toward the past, local construction of cultural heritage and official heritage management of the temple. Once inscribed, I will return to Phimai to assess changes in these domains.

My two current research projects are linked by their attention to cultural heritage in the context of highly developed nations – the U.S. and England. The basic question is what does heritage do in these contexts rather than in developing countries (from very poor and challenged to much better off). The Mythic Mississippi (co-directed by Paul Kapp, School of Architecture, UIUC) focuses on Nauvoo, Illinois and Collinsville, Illinois and will extend to other towns along the river. Nauvoo was and is an epicenter of the Mormon religion. We are interested in the contemporary performance and built environment of Mormon heritage, local inter-group dynamics in town and the intersection with tourism. The Collinsville project is predicated on the incorporation of the Cahokia World Heritage Site within the town’s boundary. Our preliminary research reveals a notable lack of interest in the site. Rather, the cultural heritage that is expressed and entrepreurially exploited is the “World’s Largest Catsup Bottle” and its festival, the Italian Fest and the Horseradish Festival. We are interested in local construction of heritage, local historical knowledge, and the interaction between the city and the Cahokia site.

My fieldwork in England has been conducted at the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and now in Durham. The issue in Ironbridge Gorge is the long-term marketing of the site as “Birthplace of Industry” with little official interest in it as a World Heritage Site and even less popular interest in its World Heritage status. Rather, there is widespread awareness and enthusiasm for the gorge as national industrial heritage. Whereas the national industrial heritage of Ironbridge Gorge is the focus of interpretation at this World Heritage Site, the industrial heritage underwriting the history and wealth of the Durham Cathedral and Castle World Heritage Site is almost invisible in the official script. Under the leadership of Dr. Andreas Pantazatos (Co-Director, Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage, Durham University), we are studying the mining heritage of Durham as it is expressed in the annual Gala when residents of the former mining towns come into the elite center and we are working in their home communities where a major effort is underway to remember and empower labor history and its bearers.

I am the co-editor of two book series: “Heritage, Tourism and Community,” for Routledge (with Mike Robinson, Director, Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, University of Birmingham, UK) and ICAHM’s  “Multidisciplinary Perspectives in Archaeological Heritage Management,” published by Springer (with Douglas Comer, President, ICAHM Board). I am an Expert Member of ICAHM (ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management) and ICTC (ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Cultural Tourism). I currently serve on the editorial boards of International Journal of Heritage Studies, Heritage and Society, World Art, Built Heritage and Thema (among others).

I am the Director CHAMP (Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy). See: champ.anthro.illinois.edu.


PhD, Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
MA, Anthropology, Columbia University
BA, Anthropology, Queens College of the City University of New York


Anth 175: Archaeology and Popular Culture
Anth 180: Anthropology and Archaeology of Death
Anth 224: Tourist Cities and Sites
Anth 420: Case Studies in Global Heritage
Anth 460: Heritage Management
Anth 462: Museum Theory and Practice
Anth 557: Social Construction of Space
GLBL 298: Tourism and Economic Development in Peru

Office Address

Department of Anthropology
607 S Mathews Ave.
M/C 148
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone


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