A Message from the President on the International Day for Monument and Sites 2023


In 1982, ICOMOS proclaimed April 18 as the International Day for Monuments and Sites. The name given this day is taken from the full name of the organization, the International Council on Monuments and Sites. The ICOMOS acronym used alone provides the public with no idea of what the organization does or what the organization is supposed to do. There is nothing to suggest that the essential role of the organization, one that dates to the ratification of the World Heritage Convention in 1972, is to advise UNESCO and the World Heritage Center on cultural heritage issues.

As an ICOMOS member, you might want to try an experiment: ask a neighbor, or a friend, or a member of your family if they know of ICOMOS. Or tell one of these people that you are a member of ICOMOS and observe the look of puzzlement on their face.

This lack of recognition carries with it significant drawbacks for our national committee. We could fulfill our special role in the protection and management of heritage resources vastly more effectively if we had more of the foremost experts in cultural heritage, in all its myriad forms, from the proper treatment of earthen architecture to the economics of heritage to the philosophy that should guide the involvement and input of heritage experts. Not only would the involvement of more heritage experts benefit our national committee, but the involvement with our national committee would benefit the organizations from which they are drawn.

In the United States, we have thousands of universities. Within those universities are thousands of scholars dealing with cultural heritage. The United States is also home to thousands of museums and thousands of firms that provide cultural heritage services. Surely less than one percent of the people affiliated with these organizations belong to our ICOMOS national committee.

As importantly, the understanding of heritage and the role that it plays in laying the groundwork for the future is changing, and that change has occurred rapidly in recent years in universities, museums, and in the lead U.S. heritage organization, the National Park Service. Such organizations have realized the role heritage plays in shaping society and culture. This realization has been especially driven by the Black Lives Matter movement. In retrospect, we can see that heritage has been a territory claimed by the privileged to legitimate their position. Understanding this, scholars and those who present the past to the public from these thousands of organizations concerned with heritage have begun to include narratives that have been overlooked or suppressed.

Frequently, these narratives are presented by members of groups that have been oppressed and ignored. Our national committee needs many more members who are deeply engaged with this transition. This will provide enormous support for efforts to develop a new heritage, one that is multi-cultural and that embraces diversity to better convey how the past has brought us to the present and how acknowledging the roles that diverse people and cultures have played in the past can bring us together in the future. Our DBA (our “Doing Business As” designation: World Heritage USA) is an effort in that direction.

It is essential that we convey that this is related to a sea change in the understanding of what heritage does on a global scale. Heritage is the realm of culture that presents the past as either a model for the future or a corrective for our future policies and actions. In recent years, there has been recognition of the role that heritage plays in determining the course of climate change and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A necessary step in understanding this role is doing away with the false dichotomy of culture vs. nature. It is recognized now in the scientific community that the term nature itself is a cultural construct, and that this realization must drive decision making that will determine the fate of the planet.

Our ICOMOS national committee has never been on solid financial footing. With a tiny membership, this should be expected. One consequence of this is that after 55 years of existence, we have no endowment. While our financial condition has improved in recent years, this has been accomplished only by dint of enormous commitments of unpaid time by a working Board of Trustees. Can we be sure that such a committed group can be assembled into the indefinite future? If not, can we be sure that we can play the roles described above?

What has just been said about the United States national committee can also be said about the substantial majority of the over one hundred other national committees. The only exceptions are those national committees that are ensured funding by the states that they represent. Yet that is the proverbial double-edged sword, for state-supported national committees can appear to some to be influenced to advance state government interests over the interests of the global ICOMOS community, the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, and, more generally, the goals laid out in the World Heritage Convention.

Developing this new heritage and employing it in ways to ensure the sustainability of the environment and our interconnected, multi-cultural world demands that we state much more clearly the scope of our concerns. Our impact will draw heavily on the unique position we hold within ICOMOS as not just one, but the first, of approximately 107 national Committees and the international network that we are a part of. In communicating internationally, we must be certain that we are seen as a part of this network. Employing a DBA within our country heightens our ability to support the International Council on Monuments and Sites. Doing business as World Heritage USA provides a point of entry to the global reevaluation of what heritage does and a chance to contribute to the use of heritage in a more positive and powerful manner, one that the acronym ICOMOS alone does not.

I look forward to continuing our work together to strengthen our national committee and ICOMOS as a whole.

With my appreciation and gratitude,




Douglas C. Comer, Ph.D.
President, WorldHeritageUSA, U.S. National Committee ICOMOS

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