Event — Workshop

Material Matters in Historical Spaces: Taiwan and Beyond

Venue: Gravensteen Building, Leiden, room 1.11

Material considerations are essential to the work of historic preservation, the adaptive reuse of historical sites, and the construction of historical narratives in heritage displays. High-profile questions of provenance and repatriation aside, however, the labor of considering matters of ownership, belonging, and other material entanglements often takes place behind the scenes of such projects.

This workshop places the material aspects of preservation and heritage front and center. How are heritage projects shaped by and reflect physical environments? How do they reveal or obfuscate property relations and problems of urban and rural development? How does the material analysis of objects and the adaptive reuse of sites revise historical narratives on different scales? Taiwan’s place as a pivot of multiple regional and global geographies makes it a compelling site from which to examine such questions, as does its historical legacies of empire, authoritarianism, and Indigenous displacement, and current efforts to reckon with those legacies. The workshop will feature four presentations by scholars of anthropology, architecture and urban planning, and history on various material aspects of Taiwan’s heritage over a broad expanse of time and geography.

The event wraps up with a comparative discussion of the political economy, social underpinnings and material demands of heritage spaces and narratives for which Elena Paskaleva, assistant professor in Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe at Leiden University, is invited to join the conversation.

The workshop is convened by Professor Rebecca Nedostup, Chair of Taiwan Studies, International Institute for Asian Studies and Leiden University, and organised by the International Institute for Asian Studies. This workshop is part of the Chair of Taiwan Studies programme which is supported by the Department of Cross-Strait Education of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Faculty of Humanities and the International Institute for Asian Studies have jointly established a Chair of Taiwan Studies, based at the Faculty of Humanities.



Niki Alsford, Professor in Asia Pacific Studies; Director of Asia Pacific Institutes at the University of Central Lancashire

Lung-chih Chang, Director of the National Museum of Taiwan History

Queenie Lin, PhD Candidate at History of Architecture and Urban Planning, Delft University of Technology

Rebecca Nedostup, Chair of Taiwan Studies, International Institute for Asian Studies and Leiden University; Associate Professor of History and Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at Brown University

Discussion participant:
Elena Paskaleva, Coordinator of the Asian Heritage Cluster at International Institute for Asian Studies; Assistant professor in Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe at Leiden University



13:00 - 13:15

Welcome and registration

13:15 - 13:30

Opening remarks by IIAS and Rebecca

13:30 - 14:30

Speaker 1 - Niki Alsford


Speaker 2 - Queenie Lin


Q&A for speaker 1 and 2

14:30 - 15:00

Coffee break

15:00 - 16:00

Speaker 3 - Rebecca Nedostup


Speaker 4 - Lung-chih Chang


Q&A for speaker 3 and 4

16:00 - 17:15

Comparative discussion


with speakers and IIAS coordinator of the Asian heritages cluster, Elena Paskaleva



This workshop is in-person and free of charge. To register, please fill in the form in the column on the right of this page.


Talk abstracts and speakers’ bio’s

Niki AlsfordRethinking Cloth Politics: Revitalising Barkcloth within the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists

In the pre-Columbian world, Austronesian speakers were the most widely dispersed ethnolinguistic population. The languages spread south from Taiwan and across the Pacific. This was not a single event of mass migration, but rather a process of interconnected movement and language convergence over thousands of years. Ethnobotanical evidence for this migration includes the paper mulberry tree to make barkcloth. Its use is not unique to the Pacific; it has strong origins in Uganda where it is entered on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Lists. This paper explores not only the role that barkcloth had among the trading networks of early Pacific voyagers, but also how this textile has been repurposed, interpreted, and ‘mended’ through layers of coloniality within the Pacific and resulting national memory. By doing so, it helps us to reconsider assumptions made about indigenous subjectivity. In particular, the knowledge and practice of barkcloth making and its interpretation. This paper will give light to the shared historical narratives of barkcloth production within museums and galleries, concentrating largely on the discourses within heritage studies. Moreover, by examining the fluidity of barkcloth movement, it forces us to reconsider—or mend—issues of indigenous sovereignty. The settler colonisation of Taiwan from the seventeenth century has resulted in a lack of political representation and acknowledgement of the island and its history within international organisations, in particular UNESCO. Attention to this is important in that it argues for the recognition of Taiwan as the site of the earliest form of barkcloth production within the Pacific and the first phase of the Austronesian migration.

Niki Alsford is a Professor in Asia Pacific Studies and the Director of Asia Pacific Institutes at the University of Central Lancashire. He holds the position of Research Associate at the Centre of Taiwan Studies at SOAS, the University of London, and is an Associate Member of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2023, he was honoured as the Ewha Global Fellow at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea. As an anthropologist, Dr Alsford primarily focuses his research on Taiwan and the Pacific Islands. He serves as the book series editor for the Taiwan Series at BRILL and the Korean Series at Routledge. Dr Alsford authored Transitions to Modernity in Taiwan: The Spirit of 1895 and the Cession of Formosa to Japan, published by Routledge in 2017. His forthcoming book, Taiwan Lives: A Socio-Political History, is scheduled to be published by the University of Washington Press in autumn 2023.


Lung-chih Chang – Preserving Cultural Heritage for Tomorrow: Three Cases from the National Museum of Taiwan History

Founded in 2011, the National Museum of Taiwan History (NMTH) features rich stories of land and people of the island nation. The NMTH staffs pride themselves on building a “Museum for Everyone” and endeavor to preserve tangible and intangible cultural heritages of the multi-ethnic Taiwanese society. This presentation will introduce three representative cases of the NMTH in historical preservation and discuss important issues of museum studies including property ownership, narrative construction, and reuse strategies. The cases are summarized as follows:

  1. The case of “Co-working”: using the wood tablet of a southern indigenous tribe as example, I’ll introduce the collection process of this artifact, the representation of indigenous culture, and the new initiative of re-interpretation by museum professionals and the local villagers.
  2. The case of “Returning home”: using the temple artifacts of a central Hakka village as example, I’ll outline the devastation of the 1999 earthquake, the preservation efforts by the NMTH, and the home-coming story of temple artifacts in 2019.
  3. The case of “Digital Memory bank”: using the Covid-19 collection webpage as example, I’ll showcase the NMTH rapid response initiative during the pandemic and discuss how digital technology combined with human efforts transform the rationale of historical preservation in Taiwan.

To sum up, the interesting cases of the NMTH testify that Taiwan represents an important site of collective memory with multiple layers of historical immigration, colonial governance and encounters with modernity. Further comparative study is therefore encouraged if not required for the advancement of museum studies in the post-pandemic world.

Lung-chih Chang is the Director of the National Museum of Taiwan History. He is Associate Research Fellow and served as former deputy Director of the Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Dr Chang received his PhD in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. His research interest includes social and cultural history, comparative colonialism, historiography and public history. He has been the visiting scholar in Tokyo University, Cambridge University and Heidelberg University. He is now working on a manuscript about historiography and public memory in contemporary Taiwan.


Queenie LinBuilding the Resilient Dutch Overseas Settlements in VOC Asia: Dutch Formosa and Malacca

This research aims to link Dutch Formosa (Taiwan, 1622-1668), a crucial yet often neglected settlement built by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC), to other Dutch coastal settlements in VOC Asia, especially Dutch Malacca (1641–1825) and the rest of the world by reconstructing the Dutch overseas settlement construction mechanism. These coastal settlements are historically and currently on the frontline of environmental impacts, therefore this research also explores the local responses and contribution of the building activities in the Dutch period, which are intertwined with the indelible environmental change that are problems with roots and solutions found in these settlements’ past. It raises the questions such as how did the Dutch tackle local environmental challenges and create climate-resilient overseas settlements (e.g. natural resource investigations, infrastructures, policies and maintenance)? How did the Dutch style resonate with local technologies and material availabilities to achieve sustainability? And eventually how can contemporaries learn from the 17th- and 19th-century Dutch resilience and continue on the 21st-century resilience? Thus this research also aims to ignite the inter-cultural connections and conversations between Taiwan, the Netherlands and other countries with Dutch shared heritage while bridging intersections between climate adaptation and heritage preservation, which leads to developing a roadmap for resilient preservation of these historical coastal settlements.

Furthermore, this research also investigates the often oversaw phenomenon of how multicultural encounters inspire mobility and circulation of building technologies and materials between the VOC port cities and the intra-Asia knowledge exchange network established accordingly, especially the local brick-and-mortar production. It raises the question of how “Dutch” are these Dutch built heritages? Previous research on Dutch overseas building activities tends to focus on the Dutch contribution to bringing Western urban planning ideals to the East, however, this work aims to explore far more complex and conjoined combinations of local stakeholders’ contributions. It investigates how Asian Diaspora helped the material production technology and knowledge circulation, and how Dutch relied deeply on the local hybrid community, particularly diasporas Chinese, and these knowledge exchange networks, as well as conformed to local materials and construction techniques for optimizing their urban formation and maintaining the resilience of these coastal settlements.

Queenie Yun-fong Lin is a PhD Candidate at History of Architecture and Urban Planning at Delft University of Technology, with a research focus on the sustainable preservation of climate-challenged Dutch overseas settlements in Dutch East India Company (VOC) Asia. She is currently working under the UNESCO Chair in Water, Ports and Historic Cities and in the PortCityFutures research group, and is the editor of the journal Blue Papers: Water & Heritage for Sustainable Development. She was also a PhD candidate of Cultural Heritage and Arts Innovation Studies, Taipei National University of the Arts, and that and her previous MA training in art and architectural history (University of Virginia, USA), conservation of fine art (Northumbria University, UK), and underwater cultural heritage (UNESCO Foundation Course certification), equip her for professional employment in academia, museums, research institutes and think tanks in Asia, America and Europe. With her multicultural background, she brings insight about Euro-American-centric alternatives, and builds paradigm-shifting local perspectives on a global scale. She is an active member of ICOMOS, ICOM, and a council member of the International Advisory Council of the Global Urban History Project (GUHP). She has received the New Netherland Research Center's Student Scholar in Residence Research Grant (USA), the Asian Graduate Student Fellowship (National University of Singapore) and other major grants from Taiwan.


Rebecca NedostupSquat No More: Historic Preservation as Legalization and Legitimization

Sometimes, projects of historic preservation and adaptive reuse involve properties whose ownership is obscure or contested. Thus, negotiating legal rights to the site become as vital a task as community and physical work. Preservation is well known for rejuvenating abandoned sites and gentrifying places characterized by informal usage. But it can also offer a way of revising and rehabilitating the status of a property whose ownership is disputed, whether that be on an individual or a national scale. This talk will examine the historical circumstances of colonialism, war, and emergency that established patterns of “squatting” on property in Republican China and postwar Taiwan. Here, I consider the category of “squatting” in a more capacious and flexible way so that the individual actions usually associated with the term can be discussed together with state and military acts of occupation and settlement. Drawing attention to various “types” of squatting in the political and legal context, I will look at how they produced both specific types of built environment and legal questions in a democratic Taiwan. Finally, I will look at some recent adaptive reuse projects to see the tools that cultural heritage has offered for working through such problems of property rights.

Rebecca Nedostup holds the Chair of Taiwan Studies at Leiden University and IIAS from February until June 2023. Now nearing completion on her second monograph, Living and Dying in the Long War: China and Taiwan’s Displacements, 1937-1959, Dr Nedostup is beginning research on a planned third book that places Taiwan’s efforts to reckon with the legacy of authoritarian violence in the context of global conversations about reparations, property restoration, and the production of historical knowledge. She is an Associate Professor of History and Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA.


Elena Paskaleva – Discussion participant

Elena Paskaleva is the coordinator of the Asian heritages cluster at IIAS. In this function she is coordinating the development of the Double Degree in Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe of Asia and Europe, involving IIAS, Leiden University and various Asian partner universities. At Leiden University she teaches the course Critical Approaches to Heritages Studies, and acts as the supervisor of the focus on heritage studies within the MA Asian studies.

She is assistant professor in Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe at Leiden University. Her current research focuses on the material culture of Central Asia, and in particular on the history and socio-political importance of Timurid architecture. Dr Paskaleva has been a strong proponent of strengthening the study and teaching of Central Asia in Leiden within the framework of the Central Asia Initiative and LUCIS. Since September 2015 she is the coordinator of the Asian Heritage Cluster at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS).