Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC)

Founded at the Penn Museum in 2008, the Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) is at the forefront of university-based organizations dedicated to the identification and protection of cultural heritage around the world. Its hallmark has been a community-centered approach that reframes the preservation of cultural heritage within a context of social, political, and economic development. This strategy informs field collaborations, documentation initiatives, educational outreach, and public policy interventions that emphasize community priorities for successful outcomes.


An exhibit from the Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

In the 2018–2019 academic year, the PennCHC continued its education initiatives in classes, though public programs, and with 27 interns and 15 student volunteers. The PennCHC also hosted seven public lectures at the Museum this year, representing a broad set of speakers and research projects ranging from LGBT heritage in New York City to ethnomusicology and disaster recovery in Japan. Ten graduate students from Penn’s Department of Anthropology organized the first of what will be an annual PennCHC conference on Community Archaeology and Heritage. The event brought together graduate and undergraduate student researchers from across the United States to talk about their work on community-based archaeology and heritage projects and featured a keynote address from Dr. Stephen Silliman of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Field Projects

Dr. Richard Leventhal with colleagues in Indian Creek, Belize.

In 2019, the PennCHC launched the California Indian Terminated Tribes Project (CITTP), which collaborates with Native American communities seeking to restore their Federal recognition, preserve sacred lands, and to revitalize their culture. CITTP takes tribal priorities as a starting point for community-based participatory research. We also began planning for the development of a Community Museum in Indian Creek, Belize, in partnership with the local Q’eqchi’ Maya of Southern Belize. The Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (SHOSI) Project launched SIMAT, a non-profit association for the study and preservation of Syrian heritage, based in Berlin, Germany. SIMAT is run by Syrian refugees and expats and continues SHOSI’s emergency preservation initiatives in Syria. The Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and the Project U’Mari in Sicily, Italy, both continued their community-based archaeology and heritage work.

Data Research

Dr. Richard Leventhal and the PennCHC Summer 2018 intern cohort.

The PennCHC is leading the effort to assemble the Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict Data Resource (CHAAC-DATA), which will enable the investigation of understudied topics about conflict dynamics, provide critical data about cultural heritage sites and the destruction they experience during conflict to the broader research community, and inform public policy around the protection of cultural heritage sites, humanitarian interventions, and international peace and security. This year, the PennCHC continued to gather data for CHAAC-DATA. Twenty-two interns and volunteers contributed to this project, completing datasets for twelve countries.

Public Policy Outreach

Project U’Mari seeks to mobilize the maritime heritage of the Mediterranean in support of local engagement and development around contemporary interactions, migrations, and livelihoods.

At the request of the Museum’s Williams Director, the PennCHC developed proposals for the future of provenance research and education in the museum field. The provenance of antiquities—their collecting history—is the foundation for scholarship about global archaeological heritage. Access to excavation records, sales records, archival materials, and other information documenting the movement of objects enables us to understand the context of their acquisition by museums and collectors and how this circulation shapes our knowledge of the ancient world. This work is intended to advise the Archaeological Institute of America and the Association of Art Museum Directors as these professional organizations develop new initiatives.