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Fossil fuels have a major – sometimes unnoticed – impact on our lives, culture and society: from the clothes we wear to how we get from a to b. A new research project, involving ten partners from six different countries, will explore how heritage and 'petrocultures' are entangled in the context of the green transition. From the University of Amsterdam, Assistant Professor of Memory and Museums Colin Sterling is involved in the project.

‘Petrocultures’ is a term used to describe how social imaginaries, economic discourses, and understandings of modernity are shaped by oil. How do petrocultures and cultural heritage intersect, and in what new ways can cultural heritage be used to creatively engage citizens and support them in the transition to green energy infrastructures? Over the next four years, the researchers will explore these questions.

The project, titled PITCH (Petrocultures’ Intersections with The Cultural Heritage sector in the context of green transitions), is co-financed by the EU Horizon Europe programme and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for a total of around €3.3 million. The project will create two museum exhibitions, an interpretive biking trail, and public engagement events and workshops.

Power station turned art space

As part of the project, UvA researcher Colin Sterling will lead on a partnership with E-WERK Luckenwalde, a former coal-fired power station south of Berlin, which was turned into a sustainable power plant and contemporary art space. Working closely with the team at E-WERK, this strand of the project will explore how the creative re-use of former industrial sites can galvanize climate action among local communities, and provide models of just and sustainable funding for the cultural sector as a whole.

‘Heritage sites and museums do not simply represent or reflect petrocultures,’ says Sterling, ‘they are deeply entangled with forms of extraction and exploitation that lie at the heart of the climate crisis. There is an urgent need to fundamentally reorient cultural heritage and heritage practices away from such behaviours and attitudes, to support more socially and ecologically just green transitions.’

The project builds on Sterling’s ongoing research into museums, heritage, and the ecological crisis, notably the Klimaatmuseum and Reimagining Museums for Climate Action, the latter of which culminated in an exhibition at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. 


The research project will run from December 2023 to November 2027 and involves partners in Norway, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the UK. The project will be led by Dolly Jørgensen, Professor of History and co-director of the Greenhouse Center for Environmental Humanities at University of Stavanger in Norway.

Dr. C.P. (Colin) Sterling

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Kunstgeschiedenis