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Every Day is World Heritage Day

Today, however, it is World Heritage Day or The International Day for Monuments and Sites ( ICOMOS 1982, UNESCO 1983). This commemorative date aims to promote awareness about the cultural heritage of humanity, their vulnerability and the efforts required for their protection and conservation (here for more). Each year there is a theme, last year was Heritage Changes. This year the theme is Disaster and Conflict Resilience Heritage.


A perfect time to think about heritage at risk from an everyday perspective rather than what seems to be a technocratic one.


A great time to think about the nuances of heritage protection and reflect.


Perhaps by re-thinking:


How would you define the terms heritage and protection?  

What heritage should be protected and by whom?

What are the complications of heritage protection at home and abroad?

Where does the risk to heritage come from (what do we mean by risk) and how can it be mitigated?


The stewardship of heritage has been greatly effective in many areas, however, in post-conflict and other risk-filled contexts, it seems to struggle. Some have said it is because the primary approaches are elitist, top-down mechanisms for promoting global democracy and liberal values. Others suggest international organisations have prioritised scientific approaches to archaeological sites and culturally significant buildings without giving enough thought to the local condition and their right to self-determination.  


Perhaps it's time to think differently about the everyday aspects of heritage protection, especially within local communities struggling with the entanglements of post-conflict trauma and displacement.  To recognise that the everyday relationship between heritage, risk and the memories of violence develops a precarious sense of place after conflict and requires a more considered approach.


There are several excellent papers published this week, they help frame some thought-provoking aspects of the heritage protection context. I invite you to read them and see what you think.


The first one is Reconstruction Across the Middle East: UNESCO and the Rise of Heritage INGOs by Lynn Mekell and Benjamin Isakhan



The twenty-first century has seen near constant crises and conflicts across

the Middle East, many of which have had a devastating impact on the

region’s rich cultural heritage. Confronted by this reality, UNESCO – the

world’s foremost body designed to promote the protection of heritage

– has struggled to meaningfully address site destruction and has been

hamstrung by its own institutional inertia. The vacuum created by

UNESCO’s failures has given rise to a hybrid heritage landscape of

multilateral agencies, INGOs, state bodies and local organisations which

seek to emulate, improve on or radically re-imagine the work that

UNESCO was designed to lead. In turn, this has created burgeoning

business opportunities and a thriving consultancy culture for INGOs,

often with little public oversight, accountability or effective monitoring.

This paper critically examines the rise of these heritage INGOs and their

efforts in the Middle East, bringing into question their efficacy and

legitimacy by drawing on results from original surveys conducted in

both Mosul and Aleppo. The results indicate that these heritage INGOs

largely fail to adequately engage locals in their programmes to protect

and restore heritage and that respondents would prefer to see

domestic control over the future of their past.


The Second also by Lynn Mekell and Benjamin Isakhan is called Local Perspectives on Heritage Reconstruction after Conflict:



The destruction of heritage in conflict has emerged as a key challenge to

global security and the prospects of peace. In response, the international

community has undertaken several large-scale heritage reconstruction

projects on the assumption that they would foster development and

promote cohesion. However, to date very little is understood about how

local populations value their heritage, how they perceive its destruction,

whether they view reconstruction as a priority, and the extent to which

they support foreign efforts to rebuild. This article addresses this lacuna by

focusing on the case study of Aleppo and documenting the results of an

original public opinion survey of 1600 residents. The results hold several

implications for heritage projects in Aleppo, namely that locals prefer that

heritage reconstruction: not be privileged over security, development and

peace; includes the rebuilding of their local religious sites as much as

significant non-religious sites; transforms sites into more useful structures

for the community; and they want domestic control and agency over the

future of their heritage. The article concludes by noting that such findings

hold important implications for heritage projects in other (post-)conflict

contexts where mass heritage destruction has taken place.




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