As the oldest and one of the largest of the 113 National Committees of ICOMOS, the U.S. National Committee (now ICOMOS-USA; formerly US/ICOMOS) has played a critical role in the conservation and protection of cultural heritage sites across the world for over half a century.
The roots of ICOMOS date back to the early 20th century. Prior to this time, architectural heritage and historic preservation were seen primarily as a national concern, with their scope rarely extending beyond any one country’s borders. However, in 1931, the League of Nations’ International Museums Office organized a meeting of international specialists to discuss the conservation of historic buildings. The conference resulted in the Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments, which called for the establishment of national legislation to preserve historic sites and the creation of conservation organizations to protect our common world heritage—and with that, for the first time, heritage was thought of as a global concern that merited international conservation efforts.
The First International Congress of Architects and Specialists of Historic Buildings was held in Paris in 1957. The Congress recommended that countries lacking a central organization for the protection of historic buildings provide for the establishment of such an authority. It also recommended that all member states of UNESCO join the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), based in Rome. The Congress agreed to have its second meeting in Venice.
Accordingly, in 1964, the Second International Congress of Architects and Specialists of Historic Buildings met and adopted a series of thirteen resolutions. The first created the International Charter on the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, commonly known as the Venice Charter. The second, put forward by UNESCO, created ICOMOS to carry out this charter.
In June 1965, the Constitutional and First General Assemblies of lCOMOS took place in Warsaw, Poland, with delegates attending from 26 countries. From the very beginning, American citizens were intimately involved with the establishment of ICOMOS and its work in protecting international cultural heritage. The U.S. National Committee of ICOMOS, in turn, was organized a few short months after the Warsaw meetings, becoming the first of the National Committees to be set up under the ICOMOS umbrella.