Walking seminar 1 : Sečovlje – Škofije

Walking seminar 1 : Sečovlje – Škofije

In January 2020, within the frame of the »Heritage on the margins. New perspectives on heritage and identity within and beyond national« program group at ZRC SAZU, we undertook the first “walking seminar “- a type of ethnographic walk between the Secovlje and Spodnje Škofije. We loosely followed two marked trails – part of the E12 European long distance footpath, or Mediterranean footpath (KEUPS), which crosses Spain, France and Italy to Slovenia and continues towards the eastern Mediterranean, and the Border guard trails through the quarries of the Milje hills (Malečkar 2014), but we also took our own routes, some following the two marked trails more closely, others less so. The history of European footpaths dates back to 1969, with the founding of the European Ramblers’ Association in Germany. Today, there are twelve European footpaths in total, extending approximately 70,000 km. Three European footpaths, E6, E7 and E12, pass through Slovenia. The Slovenian part of the E12 footpath mainly follows the present-day Slovenian coastline. The Slovenian part of E12 was officially opened in December 2016, its local steward is the Coastal Alpine Club of Koper and The Commission for European Footpaths Slovenia (KEUPS) is the (national) umbrella steward for Slovenia. As the President of the Commission said: “This new trail does not follow new routes, but will only be upgrading existing ones. We want to add new content to those we already have in Slovenia. And it is the E12 that will provide some new content, letting us know that Slovenes are also a maritime nation, that we have an Adriatic that is extremely beautiful. It is on this section from Škofije to Secovlje that we can see the fantastic things that our Slovenian sea has brought about.” (Radio Ognjišče). The border guard trails have different, more local visions and roots. The educational trail is named after Ivan Jug, a naturalist and forester from Premančan, and includes sixteen observation points that include village washpools, abandoned quarries, wooded groves, stone tables, etc. If the first trail is brushed by the colours of the sea, with changing blue shades, the dominant colour of the second trail is green. The yellowish colour of sandstone accompanies both trails; visible in the stone walls lining the fields; showing through the cracks of old plaster on houses made of sandstone, the floors of forest paths, and embedded in the steps of the Žusterna city baths.

Methodologically, the ethnographic walk followed the guidance of Nick Shepherd, Professor of Archeology and Heritage Research at Aarhus University in Denmark and Professor of African Studies and Archeology at the University of Cape Town (Shepherd 2018); in fragments, many other attempts at ethnographic and other research walks began to appear primarily in the context of phenomenological exploration within geography and anthropology, as well as mobile ethnographic approaches (Buscher, Urry 2009). Perhaps it is worth mentioning at this point, that one of the pioneering methodological attempts at ethnographic walking emerged in Slovene ethnology as early as the mid-1990s, even before the growing popularity of ethnographic walks, as part of a study on the trade routes taken by the Šavrinkas, the women traders from Istria (Rogelja, Ledinek 1996, 2000).

Nick Shepherd’s walking seminars took place over several days in South Africa, where he led the university’s Heritage and Public Culture in Africa program. As Shepherd wrote in the editorial of Walking Seminars. Embodied Research and Emergent Anthropocene Landscapes, his seminars had three central goals:

  1. to explore the intersections between conventional science and forms of artistic research and practice;
  2. use walking as a methodology to explore landscapes and history;
  3. reconsider time, materiality and memory.

Shepherd speaks of his seminars as curated events in which the (selected) participants reflect on a specific pre-prepared research question, and the participants themselves, as well as discussions between them, are a central source of information for formulating answers to the question asked. One of the ideas behind the walking seminars is the desire to erase hierarchies between theory and practice, between academic research and creative practice. To this end, Shepherd’s seminars are designed to encourage hybrid collaborations that include architects, philosophers, choreographers, anthropologists, and the like, inviting them to think together about a particular research question. The link between “seriousness” and “playfulness” and the fusion of the two along a research-based walk is also a focus of interest. As Shepherd writes: “I am thinking of playfulness not as the opposite of seriousness, but as something that exists in a more complex relation to seriousness, even as the index of a special kind of seriousness” (2018).

Seven researchers from different disciplines attended our January seminar. Although we were much closer in discipline than the participants at Shepherd’s seminars, it was nevertheless interesting to reflect on Shepherd’s idea that disciplines are a kind of alibi that (can) create/s violence (ibid). It was also interesting to observe group walking, physical activity that mitigated “disciplinary violence” and somewhere “between here and there” softened our sharp and sometimes disciplinary or personally limited thoughts (and prejudices) with mutual respect and/or understanding. At the start of our journey, each participant received a notebook with clear research questions and a loose outline of the hiking methodology. Each of the participants had their own task (e.g. managing the daily evening reflection, orientation and guidance on the terrain, establishing the archives after the hike, etc.) As the event organiser, I selected the route, prepared the notes, formulated research questions and organised food and lodging. Here, too, I followed Shepherd’s guidance that the path should be well organised in terms of food and lodging, and that the theoretical and methodological issues should be easily paced in for the classroom, and then put to one side before the walk. Leave them hanging in the wind. Sometimes less (guidance) is more.

And off we went. We walked for three days, walking about twenty kilometres a day, which was a kind of compromise between time spent looking at certain display panels, museums, talking to people … and time spent walking – a simple physical activity of moving your body through a space, which, in this methodological experiment, was also crucial. As described above, and following Shepherd’s guidance, some kind of ad hoc publication is required to follow the walking seminar – for this reason we will publish a booklet, available on Heriskop.  The booklet explains the background to the seminar, and is followed by brief reflections from the participants (in the form of an article, a sketch, an excerpt from a field diary, a drawing or a poem), and a selection of participants photographs addressing two questions: What is heritage? and What does heritage do? In the spirit of theories in the field of critical heritage studies (Smith 2006), it might be more sensible to only ask the second question, which points to the active and processual nature of heritage. As the organiser of the meeting, I took the risk, and I also asked the group a first, rather essentialist question. It seemed to us that we also had to answer this question ourselves, from our own experience, to refute or to accept it, to illuminate the relation between the two questions. Sometimes taking a step back is a faster way to your destination.