(Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amersfoort, The Netherlands)

Keywords: Historical religious landscapes, Monumental churches, Heritage management, Collaboration, Geographical Information Systems (GIS)

Similar to other regions in Europe, Dutch (historical-)town centres often are dominated by monumental religious buildings. Due to their spatial and cultural importance many of these buildings have been designated as national-heritage sites during the course of the twentieth century. At present, 2351 (mainly historical) churches are protected (but not owned!) by the state. Mainly due to declining attendance an increasing number of these buildings, are now in danger of becoming vacant. Not only directly threating the conservation of these historical monuments, but also further complicating future spatial-planning challenges.
Since upcoming legislation will oblige smaller governments to specifically include churches (both monumental and non-monumental) in their (long-term) environmental planning, an integrated overview of the Dutch religious landscape is much needed! Against this background the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) issued a nation-wide mapping programme of these state-protected churches. The main aim of this exercise was to (1) improve the quality of, and enhance the data in, our own monumental register, (2) create a nationwide GIS containing these and showing the potential of these large-scale spatial analyses for the challenges mentioned above, and (3) take a first step towards an integrated (spatial) overview of the complete Dutch religious landscape. Creating such an overview is challenging because of strong regional differences and varying denominations and ownerships.
In this contribution I will focus less on technological restraints but more on the social limitations of applying GIS in a field relatively new to data-management and GIS. I will argue that applied GIS methods and theories are limited by, and need fine-tuning with, the digital knowledge of heritage experts. In this contribution I will illustrate how the complex interaction between data (e.g. quality, availability), expert knowledge, political and economic agenda’s and multiscale collaboration can fundamentally influence GIS application in heritage management.

Relevance for the conference: Paper focuses on applying GIS in the field of heritage and finding best practices for dealing with complex project situations.
Relevance for the session: Further adding a variable to the discussion on the application of GIS in the field of heritage.
Innovation: Identifying the social complexity of applying GIS in built-heritage research and the differences of applying spatial research in the different heritage fields.