I recently got a bit annoyed when David Mitchell, in a comment in The Observer, had a good go at Britain’s new tentative list for World Heritage. But I felt a bit uneasy to find myself annoyed with it, and perplexed that I was…
A core aspect of the role of a researcher is being critical – whether it is towards historical sources, present-day education systems or international politics. The World Heritage Convention is no exception. In fact it is easy to pick on – researcher like to repeat it is Eurocentric and biased. Rather than useful criticism it somehow become the correct criticism, and feel-good criticism – something we all can agree on. There is a need to move beyond this. I started off trying not to go down that line on thought, but rather look at other challenges that the World Heritage Convention faces. One of which is simply that the general public’s knowledge of the World Heritage Convention is limited. Mitchell’s comment is a good example of that, and here is where I think I got annoyed.
Mitchell starts off like the researcher, criticizing the UK’s new tentative list which was recently published. Clearly he is wittier, and less accurate, than the researchers tend to be, but still the essence is the fact that UNESCO needs to broaden their scope on heritage. A topic which has been intensely debated since the World Heritage Convention’s early days. The problem is classifying what is on the list – rather than sites, Mitchell suggests that “things” would be better term, and from there the fun can begin. His tentative list includes the pound, a steakhouse chain, some advertising campaigns from the 1980s, smell of cabbage to name some.
I have nothing against being critical against World Heritage; in fact I should gladly welcome it, being an ‘independent’ researcher with no ties to UNESCO. Why could I not just have a laugh about it? I guess because the comment is mixing it all up as it were; in short, his list has nothing to do with World Heritage, anyone who had read the Conventional text would know. But who has read it? The comment shows how little the commentator seems to know about the topic of which he picks on. He is not, however, alone, and that is also why I got annoyed. Often described as one of the most successful UNESCO projects, there is still a pressing issue to be addressed – why is World Heritage such as poorly understood concept nearly 40 years after it was first introduced?
And just to finish off, while the United Kingdom cherish their heritage its membership to UNESCO has recently been questioned and if that happens (again) there is little to list of the World Heritage List.