The awareness that cultural heritage plays an influential role in shared identities and in both spatial and environmental development has significantly increased in recent years. International collaboration and treaties, such as the ‘FARO-convention’ in 2005 emphasize the importance of heritage in relation to aspects of human rights and demography. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear that historical perspectives are essential for making well-informed choices regarding environmental challenges (e.g. spatial planning, sustainable development, climate adaptation). This increased awareness not only emphasizes the importance of cultural heritage for present-day challenges, but equally presents a new set of conditions and standards, and requires the development of new methodologies. Besides conservation, more than ever there is a need for cultural heritage to become contextualized and sustainably accessible.
The organisational pinnacle of cultural-heritage conservation is world heritage: sites that are judged to contain a set of cultural and/or natural values which are of outstanding value to humanity. However, to what extent world heritage meets these newly set criteria is unknown. Nevertheless, these sites often reflect an eminent status, scientifically as well as economically (i.e. through tourism). Consequently, world heritage often enjoys interest from multiple stakeholders including governmental, scientific, public, and commercial parties, all of whom engage in contrasting activities and have different interests and needs. As a result the need for accessibility and integrated overviews of these sites is high but equally challenging.
In this paper we will focus on the world-heritage site of Schokland (NL). This former island in the Dutch Zuiderzee both reflects outstanding historical and archaeological importance. We will show that the dynamics surrounding this site require tailormade conservation methodologies, which greatly depend on data integration. We present a new Historical Geographical Information System (HGIS) specifically designed to integrate cultural and geoscientific data and facilitate dynamic heritage management. Results show that such a system greatly adds to the contextualization and (digital) accessibility of the heritage site and is essential for substantiating conservation methodologies. Furthermore, it shows great research potential for diachronological reconstructions of dynamic-lowland development. The system facilitates multidisciplinary scientific analyses, integrated monitoring, and public outreach and shows great application potential for other (world-)heritage sites.