Coastal and Underwater Heritage

CMM37 Elective course 4 ECTS
Period W47-W48 10.11.14-21.11.14
Instructor Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir


The ocean and coastal areas of the world possess a wealth of cultural resources, both resulting from the rich maritime past of the dominant culture, and the deeper connection of indigenous cultures to the places they have lived in some cases for many centuries. Whether shipwrecks or paleoshorelines where remains of past indigenous cultures may be located, underwater cultural heritage (UCH) involves nationally and internationally significant resources which require preservation and management.

This course provides an overview of what underwater cultural heritage is, why its preservation is critically important, current practice with regard to how it is preserved and managed (with special emphasis on North America, Iceland and the Arctic), and addressing future challenges.

Coastal heritage encompasses a range of different environments, from single fish processing sites on land to larger cultural landscapes, as well as non-material heritage like folklore. Coastal heritage sites often face different challenges from sites further inland and they require different solutions. While some sites are threatened by dwindling populations other sites are in danger due to construction and development in coastal areas as well as from pollution, mining, erosion and so on.

How do those dealing with coastal heritage decide which sites and aspects of coastal heritage to focus on? What is worth protecting and what are the different methods and mediums to preserve cultural heritage? Is there a right way to preserve heritage?

A special emphasis will be placed on familiarizing students with successful coastal heritage management projects which involve the government, specialists, local residents and the general public.

Students will be familiar with international rules and treaties regarding cultural heritage and the legal environment for coastal heritage in Iceland.

The course will integrate underwater and coastal cultural heritage as two parts of a whole which together form a major part of human culture.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course:

  • Students will be able to communicate the main issues and aspects of coastal and underwater cultural heritage to the public in an accessible way both in written and oral form.
  • Students will be able to work with other specialists, government bodies and the public to protect coastal and underwater cultural heritage.
  • Students will have a good understanding of the particular challenges that coastal and underwater heritage management faces and ways to deal with them.
  • Students will acquire an understanding of the international legal framework for preservation of underwater and coastal cultural heritage, as well as examples of additional management requirements established under national laws and policies of the US, Canada and Iceland.



Tentative out-of-classroom activity:  
Visit to the regional maritime heritage museum in Ísafjörður


Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir (Iceland) earned her BA in Archaeology with a minor in Gender Studies from the University of Iceland and her MA in Archaeology from Hunter College, The City University of New York. As a zooarchaeologist she specializes in the analysis of animal bones from archaeological excavations and has done work on several sites in Iceland, Ireland and Greenland as well as participating in public outreach projects and excavations. A member of the editorial board for Ólafía: The Journal of the Archaeologists Association of Iceland since 2009. Albína currently works as a zooarchaeologist at the Agricultural University of Iceland.

Guest lecturer

Further reading

Readings and further readings will be posted on the course website on UW intranet.