Studies in World Heritage

Having trained as an archaeologist, I am fascinated by the developmental sequences of ancient settlements and the stories they tell of the struggles of past communities with dynamic human and natural forces. Lucky enough to work with experts across South Asia and Iran for over thirty years, I have also become increasing aware of the very real threat to the survival of these unique records, preserved as they are in archaeological sites, historic monuments and cultural landscapes. Looking more broadly, threats from accelerated development, mega-infrastructure, mass tourism, encroachment, neglect, climate change, natural disasters and targeted destruction are not restricted to the global south but challenge the protection and preservation of world heritage across the globe.

My experience has also shown me that world heritage not only preserves sequences and histories but can offer a real sense of identity, and maintain social diversity, cohesion, and intercultural dialogue amongst contemporary communities. It can additionally play a critical role in education, cultural preservation, conflict mitigation and sustainable development. Despite this acknowledged significance, there is a tendency for academics to write about the subject for other academics, and for heritage practitioners to write for other heritage practitioners. This situation was brought into high relief when in Kathmandu, with a group of like-minded colleagues, we brought together academics, practitioners and policy and decision makers to debate threats and construct solutions to world heritage in the aftermath of Nepal’s devastating 2015 Gorkha Earthquake.

Expanding from this formative experience, our Series Board draws from those with experience of the nexus between the world of academics, practitioners, policy and decision makers to address these issues at a global scale with novel combinations of disciplinary perspectives. In so doing, we aim to see our series inform and shape debates on professional standards and responsibilities; legal and ethical codes; concepts of stewardship and custodianship; identifying past practices for sustainability planning, research ethics and illicit antiquities; and the social, ethical and economic impacts of the promotion of heritage, particularly at living religious and pilgrimage sites.

It has been a privilege to bring together this Board of editors as they straddle classrooms, the field and ministries and, particularly, as they can reflect on the meaning and application of world heritage in different global regions, rather than contributing to overstated North American and European experiences.  Core to our Board is a shared recognition of the potential role that world heritage can play in sustainable development and contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Our series is seeking to promote and disseminate transdisciplinary and geographically diverse case studies to steer academic and public debate about world heritage and to inform a new cadre of researchers and practitioners. We welcome monograph proposals written by individual scholars or editorial teams, as well as edited collections of comparative case studies.

We are especially interested in mid-length volumes (maximum 50,000 words) and are also very encouraging of Early Career Researchers as well as established scholars.  We guide Early Career Researchers to build out from PhDs, which are very technical pieces, to reflect on translational potentials.  Finally, we welcome informal and formal approaches, or even outline concepts that can be drawn out through seminar series as we are doing with our own Pilgrimage and Climate Change streams.

This guest post was written by Robin Coningham, Professor of Early Medieval Archaeology, 2014 UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage & Associate Director (World Heritage), Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (UK).

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