Current Issue Article Abstracts

2022 Vol. 11.2   

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Saving the World: Fifty Years of the Convention, Conservation, and Collaboration
Lynn Meskell, Claudia Liuzza

On November 16, 1945, forty-four nations gathered in London to forge an international body for educational and cultural cooperation under the aegis of the United Nations. Their project was no less than the intellectual and moral reconstruction of a world in ruins. UNESCO's first decades were spent entreating the world to unite in conserving endangered marvels as a common patrimony. The managerial priorities of world-making took precedence, requiring a sophisticated bureaucracy that valorized scientific techniques as the primary means to ensure human progress and protect virtuous human endeavors.

UNESCO's major contribution is generally considered to be pioneering international legal instruments such as the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Its legal framing, resting upon an assembly of States Parties, was premissed on the goodwill and civility of states, both to each other and to their citizens. High-profile international salvage missions simultaneously made material the idea of cooperation between nations and showcased UNESCO putting all its ideals into action. But this idea has a deeper history, starting in 1948 with the proposal for an expert committee tasked with preserving sites and monuments and the establishment of a fund to support that work. The fund was intended to provide financial assistance to endangered monuments of great cultural value. However, the Member States were not convinced and instead decided that particular preservation projects were to be considered and only when a nation petitioned UNESCO. Little did they anticipate the frequency and scale of future requests.


Our Pain, their Heritage Project: From the Palmyra Moment to Violence and the City
Ammar Azzouz

Cultural heritage sites in Syria have been weaponized, targeted, bombed, looted, and destroyed. Since the start of the Syrian Revolution in March 2011, images of destruction, as in the case of Palmyra with its celebrity status, have attracted significant attention from archaeologists, architects, and journalists to academics, politicians, and art curators. This interest led to the emergence of an "industry" focused on the protection and reconstruction of cultural heritage sites during times of violence, war, and conflict. Very often, cultural heritage projects have failed to engage with the Syrian people, turning our pain and trauma into a "heritage project." Furthermore, most of these projects have focused on selective monumental heritage sites, while neglecting the inhabitants in and around these sites. They also failed to look at the cities as a living urban whole with their narrowed focus on the monumental heritage site. In this paper therefore, I ask two questions. First, how has Palmyra been used and abused as a stage for global performances by various foreign powers? And second, how can we convert the one-off traumatic rupture of cultural heritage sites and its cinematic image of destruction, as in Palmyra in 2015, into an understanding of slow and fast violence that takes place in cities?

Muslim Heritage Preservation Stewardship Under Unesco
Trinidad Rico

Muslim heritage has been an influential factor in the emergence of UNESCO's 1972 Convention, whose priorities build extensively on decades of engagement with heritage places across the Muslim world. The World Heritage List today features sites of Islamic and non-Islamic history across Muslim societies, as well as remnants of Muslim life in secular and non-Muslim contexts. However, by the time the Convention came to fruition, relationships between UNESCO and Arab States, the most cohesive group within UNESCO that represents Muslim communities, were terse on account of political developments in the region. In addition, the particular framing of religion in the world of the Convention undermined the commitment to cultural heritage ideals in the context of predominantly Muslim societies. In this article, I review these legacies and describe the specific ways in which the World Heritage List represents the people of Islam within and beyond the Middle East and North African territories. In these discussions, I assess the influence of the Committee's work in shaping ideas of local and global heritage preservation for these regions, as well as the political and ideological challenges contained in the work of the Convention.

World Heritage and Cultural Statecraft in Putin's Russia: Patriotic Agendas, Flexible Power Relations, and Geopolitical Ambitions
Gertjan Plets, Linda Van Der Pol

Over the past two decades, heritage has become a political instrument in the nation-building portfolio of the Kremlin. To restore Russia as a great geopolitical power and promote Russian national identity, culture has become a vehicle to instill national pride. World Heritage (WH) Sites have played a small but important role in cultural politics in Russia. UNESCO-labeled cultural landscapes, architecture, and classical sites are mobilized to instill patriotism at home and convince international audiences that Russia is a grand civilization.

The discourses presented at WH Sites might help in normalizing the patriotic ideas and geopolitical ambitions of the Kremlin, but it is regional governments and nongovernmental actors that implement Russia's world heritage agenda. These players have agency and use existing conventions and standards to further their own agenda and craft a political environment favorable to their needs. However, compared to the late Soviet period, especially the Yeltsin years, the power relations have dramatically evolved.

This paper describes and analyzes the mobilization of world heritage and UNESCO more broadly since Putin's first term in 2000. World heritage is used as a lens through which broader developments in the field of cultural and heritage politics are discussed. We focus on (1) how World Heritage Sites are key in narrating patriotic histories, (2) the instrumentalization of UNESCO in Russia's ambition to establish a multipolar world order, and (3) the power relations between the Kremlin and stakeholders in the cultural heritage field.

World Heritage Subjects or Citizens? Geographical Imaginations and Displacement of Local Communities
Krupa Rajangam

The word "displacement" is typically not associated with cultural heritage sites, but in this paper I draw on ethnographic vignettes to foreground the process at the Hampi World Heritage Site, Karnataka, India. I further argue that displacement onsite is not merely a singular event of the past but an ongoing everyday reality for the site's residents. I situate my critique within critical conservation studies scholarship and recognize two sociopolitical realities. One, heritage authorities, experts, and enthusiasts are for the most part caring and knowledgeable; and two, the relations of power among Hampi's resident communities are unequal. Not all resident groups are equally powerless; some do manage to exert considerable agency. However, such recognition does not exclude the everyday reality that, in the name of site conservation-management, UNESCO's World Heritage label has led to the constitution of a heritage regime that steadily (re)shapes the Hampi landscape and its residents as governable subjects through its everyday bureaucracy of care. Such an outcome is contrary to the conservation intent that residents as citizens would become part of UNESCO World Heritage Site conservation-management. I suggest this is partly due to the visual aesthetic gaze of expertise and partly due to how such landscapes are imagined by various social actors.

World Heritage Convention at Fifty Years Old: Shifting to Outstanding Heritage Management Practices
Eugene Jo, Webber Ndoro

The World Heritage label emanates from the 1972 UNESCO Convention. The Convention is the instrument that is mostly used for celebrating the world's heritage, of Outstanding Universal Value. To most governments it is seen as an instrument of recognition and an arena for competition among other countries. As an international convention, its most important decision-making body is the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee. The Committee is formulated of twenty-one States Parties elected at the General Assembly, generally serving for a four-year mandate. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre is the Secretariat to the Convention. Experts, particularly the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee, see the Convention as a tool to better practice the conservation and management of heritage, which is clearly the intention of the 1972 Convention. Much of these Advisory Bodies' discussions can be aligned to what Laurajane Smith has called "the Authorized Heritage Discourse."1This is the notion of heritage as a professional (expert) vocabulary, which, by determining the rules of the game, determines what heritage is, what heritage is worth protecting, how it should be protected, and for whom.

Future Promise
Nada Hosking

On the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of UNESCO's adoption of the World Heritage Convention, the heritage community should reflect on what it has achieved. When nations around the world adopted the Convention in 1972, it became the certifier of "the wonders of the world." Today, there are over one thousand sites in more than 130 countries inscribed on the World Heritage List. These coveted inscriptions have successfully driven conservation efforts even during the most economically and socially challenging times.

Preserving Justice in Place
Brent Leggs, Randall Mason

The US civil rights movement resonates strongly with the 1972 World Heritage Convention's notion of universally valued heritage. Like liberation movements in many countries and all regions of the world, the civil rights movement—whether one thinks of the canonical civil rights icons of mid-twentieth century or the long civil rights movement—centers on the fundamental rights afforded to members of society.1 These civil rights are relational, about participating fully in a society and contributing to one's own culture: voting, land ownership, protection from violence, access to education, legal due process. In safeguarding these rights, civil rights movements and leaders tried to save the United States from itself, make good on the promises of the founding documents for all Americans, and reckon with the unjust and uncivil realities of US history as experienced by many Black and Brown people.