On the first day of Christmas we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in a conference hosted by ICOMOS-UK, The Open University and UCL Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture. The event came about from a conversation at last years ICOMOS conference when it seemed obvious (at least to me) that we should do ‘something’ to mark the 40th birthday in the UK as there were already celebrations planned around the world.
Speakers at the conference included Baroness Andrews (English Heritage), Professor Christina Cameron (University of Montreal), Marie-Noël Tournoux (UNESCO World Heritage Centre), James Rebanks (Rebanks Consulting Ltd), Adam Wilkinson (Edinburgh World Heritage), Feng Jing (UNESCO World Heritage Centre) and Kate Roberts (Cadw).
Love it or loath it the World Heritage Convention remains one of the most successful international conventions and, as of September 2012, 190 state parties had ratified the World Heritage Convention. The list of World Heritage sites currently stands at 962 properties, of which 745 are cultural sites, 188 natural, and 29 mixed, and they are located in 157 state parties.
My impression of the day was (to my surprise) overwhelmingly positive. There was a general feeling that the Convention as we now approach it in 2012 is both shaped by, and is shaping our approaches to cultural heritage. And actually it is the very local nature of ‘world’ heritage sites that makes them significant, and that process of becoming and retaining World Heritage adds to, rather than detracts from sites around the world.
So what about local then? – context is so important in shaping our understanding of heritage, what it means and our approaches to it, and within those separate meanings also lurks the gaping hole where different meanings can clash, and that can, and does, become political.
The importance of ‘local’ was only confirmed with a ‘kids say the funniest things’ incident when coloring in an Christmas-inspired sheep – it had black feet, and what else do sheep have? Well if you live in a rural area with sheep … they have pink numbers on their backs (obviously)!
Which brings us to that lovely snap of wintry weather in the Vale of Pickering.
For more information on the conference: http://www.icomos-uk.org/about-us/events/whtc/
UCL Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture: http://www.mhm.ucl.ac.uk/
The Open University: http://www.open.ac.uk/
…. And 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention and World Heritage list: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list