Vision Rediscovered: Our Role in World Heritage

Message from the President, March 2021

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes. – Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge (New York, 1983).

When we think about what US/ICOMOS and ICOMOS have done, and, more importantly, what we should and can do, it has become clear in the past several years that we would be well advised by a rediscovery of why we exist. UNESCO grew out of the United Nations, formed to avert the repetition of the global misery experience by humankind during two world wars.

The preamble to the United Nations Charter identified these goals; all stem from the pursuit of tolerance and peace:

  • To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples

The World Heritage Convention grew out of UNESCO. The Convention provided a special role for ICOMOS and US/ICOMOS was the first national committee formed. This was fitting because the United States, under the direction of Secretary of the Interior Russell Train as instructed by President Richard Nixon, played the leading role in completing and advancing the Convention for ratification.

Over the past several years, as isolationism and international and intercultural tensions have greatly increased, ICOMOS has acknowledged the social and economic dimensions of World Heritage as well as the call for the protection of heritage acknowledged to be of national, regional and local importance. US/ICOMOS should do the same to demonstrate the value of World Heritage Sites and heritage as it described in the World Heritage Convention in the U.S. and around the globe.

To follow this vision, US/ICOMOS will in the years ahead:

➢   Promote and Support Social Justice

In 2020, we began acknowledging the need to promote social justice in the heritage sector by highlighting diverse voices and engaging in more inclusive conversations. We will continue and enhance these efforts in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • Celebrate the annual April 18 World Heritage Day with a focus on Diversifying & Decolonizing World Heritage;
  • Produce and present World Heritage Webinars featuring conversations about issues of social justice;
  • Highlight work from diverse scholars and practitioners; and
  • Continue the monuments relocation and removal conversations.

   Advocate for World Heritage Sites

As a promoter of Word Heritage in the United States, we will:

  • Develop closer relationships with U.S. World Heritage Site management;
  • Promote and assist Tentative List Sites;
  • Advocate for the U.S. to rejoin UNESCO and pay unpaid dues;
  • Examine the feasibility of working closely with Blue Shield; and
  • Establish regular events at and regarding World Heritage Sites (including visiting other national committees and World Heritage Sites and hosting in turn).

 ➢   Address Climate Change and Cultural Heritage

We now have the task of acting to mitigate an enormous threat to the health of our planet and the well-being of the world’s population: climate change. We pledge to focus programming around climate change and to strive to make our work more sustainable. We will:

  • Organize the 2021 US/ICOMOS Annual Conference and Symposium on Climate Change and the Heritage Sector;
  • Produce World Heritage Webinars on Climate Change and Heritage; and
  • Coordinate closely via Trustee engagement with the Climate Heritage Network.

 ➢   Train Emerging Professionals

We will support the next generation of heritage professionals and work with emerging professionals to secure the future of World Heritage management and practice. We will:

  • Strengthen and expand our Emerging Professionals Network;
  • Continue our International Exchange Program;
  • Hire domestic interns for US/ICOMOS, encourage Volunteers;
  • Reinstate the Murtagh/Graham Prize; and
  • Promote International Scientific Committee (ISC) membership and participation through awareness building.

 ➢   Work to Secure Organizational Sustainability and Effectiveness

We value the continued support of our members and friends. We pledge to develop an endowment, expand our fundraising efforts, and to take other measures to ensure our organization’s future success. We will:

  • Establish an endowment;
  • Revise the US/ICOMOS Bylaws;
  • Establish and utilize a system of internal communication and coordination;
  • Develop and utilize an effective system for filing and making readily accessible documents, thus improving organizational capacity, and ensuring institutional memory;
  • Expand our fundraising approaches;
  • Connect frequently and through varied means with US/ICOMOS Members;
  • Expand membership and organizational reach (by establishing regional chapters, for example);
  • Increase attendance and public awareness of our signature programs and events (Annual Celebration of World Heritage, Annual International Conference and Symposium, International Exchange Program, and World Heritage Webinars);
  • Coordinate with ICOMOS Working Groups and ISCs; and
  • Attend to ICOMOS organizational goals.

We have a great deal of work to do! Our Board of Trustees and our administrative staff have worked very hard to bring us to a place where we can realistically consider undertaking these activities. I ask now that US/ICOMOS members raise hands in support of these efforts. Our Emerging Professionals Network will play a key role in this, but I would ask each of you to consider participating in working groups to support these activities.

If you would like to assist with a particular initiative please contact us at Programs [at]

By Douglas C. Comer, Ph.D., President, US/ICOMOS. Washington, D.C., United States of America

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