Interamerican Symposium on Authenticity
in the Conservation and Management of the Cultural Heritage

San Antonio, Texas, USA – March 1996

Margaret MacLean, PhD
Chair of the Symposium Scientific Committee

Authenticity is a notion central to contemporary preservation work. Within the context of the World Heritage Convention, it is a primary criterion for considering nominations to the World Heritage List. As the concept of “cultural heritage” has extended from its original European roots to the entire world, encompassing new categories of cultural resources, the meaning of authenticity has come under new and productive scrutiny. The worldwide debate is just starting to delve into the question of why authenticity matters, and has since 1994 been exploring the role of authenticity in the conversion of a building into a monument, a place into cultural heritage.

As the largest global forum for preservation professionals, ICOMOS has been the principal arena for the recent discussions on authenticity in heritage preservation. In a number of ICOMOS national committees around the world, local culturally specific assumptions about what authenticity is were recognized as being in conflict with the assumptions underlying the Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention. In 1994, meetings of heritage specialists took place in Norway and Japan [both of which are rich in traditional wooden architecture, particularly problematic in preservation], as well as Italy, to address various aspects of this complex topic. The meeting in Nara, Japan, proposed that regional discussions of authenticity around the world would set the stage for a comprehensive discussion at the 1996 ICOMOS General Assembly in Bulgaria.

After Nara, the subject was taken up in a European ICOMOS Symposium convened in the Czech Republic, and by African ICOMOS committees that gathered in Zimbabwe. Each discussion has been deeply meaningful locally, and accumulated wisdom on this subject promises progress in a broad understanding of the issues.

The Authenticity symposium, held March 27 -30, 1996 in San Antonio Texas, was the first assembly of the presidents of all the national committees of ICOMOS in the Americas convened to work on a single theme. This was a unique opportunity for open dialogue among preservation professionals to exchange ideas about the meanings of authenticity in preservation in the New World, and the implications for evaluating and managing this aspect of our native, colonial, and recent cultural heritage. Ideally, the symposium would enhance understanding among those whose experience and perspective differed, and would provide practical and useful ideas for these men and women whose daily work required a thoughtful knowledge of the issues.

The papers available on this webpage are the position papers circulated at the conference by ICOMOS national committees of the Americas.