50 Years World Heritage Convention: Shared Responsibility – Conflict & Reconciliation


Heritage creates identity. This is the message of the critical sociology, mainly of Norbert Elias, one of the most important scientists behind UNESCOs founding ideas. Based on this it is consequent that individuals and societies are responsible for the sustainable safeguarding of their heritage. The choice of the theme “50 Years World Heritage Convention: Shared Responsibility - Conflict & Reconciliation” is therefore to reflect on the identity-building function of heritage.

The destruction of heritage is multidimensional. And even though, in the course of time, heritage has continuously been destroyed through war and terrorism, climate change, technological change, modernisation, commodification, international policies and/or urban transformation processes etc, the effects of those processes on the identity of peoples and societies have always been the same. The destruction of heritage is destroying identity.


Consequently, the project firstly aims to identify the various forms of destroying heritage and to analyse their causes. Only knowledge about reasons, backgrounds and intentions of heritage destruction processes allows us to define short-, medium- and long-term responsibilities and to develop and implement sustainable protection strategies. Thus the second aim of the project is to develop conflict avoiding and solving strategies which are thirdly based on integrating heritage into an overall human development strategy, the Agenda 2030.


The project consists in three components, namely a Book, a Conference and Think Tanks. The Book is the final goal and the other components are steps for getting there. Thus, we start with Think Tanks, in which the participants present and discuss their papers related to the six conflict areas of the project.
The Book is going to be published in the Heritage Studies Series of Springer, an academic publication series co-edited by Marie-Theres Albert and Claire Cave. Given this context, the Book will be prepared based on the criteria of Springer (for the preparation of the Book itself), of the Heritage Studies Series (for the preparation of individual articles) and, of course, the criteria for the Book itself, namely (a) identification of conflict; (b) reflection on solutions; (c) relation to the SDGs.
The Think Tanks will be based on the submission of short-papers representing the equivalent of a 15-minute presentation. The short papers to be presented at the Think Tanks are due on 31 January 2021, and they should be sent to prodan@ina-fu.org. The papers will be evaluated based on the above-mentioned criteria. The authors of the selected papers will be invited to write full papers, to be presented at the Conference, and sent to peer-review in preparation for the Book.
The final manuscript will be submitted to Springer in mid-January 2022 and the Book will be available at the end of October 2022.

Description: The destruction of heritage is multidimensional

Today 1121 sites in 167 countries are inscribed in the World Heritage list. Out of these nearly 50% are in Europe and the US. The other 50% are shared by the rest of the world. You find this unbalanced distribution also in the inscription of cultural and natural heritage; reasons why the inscription procedure defined in the Operational Guidelines and mainly the consciousness of the international community has to be changed. In the course of time some improvements – like the global strategy, the 5 C’s, mainly the initiative to involving communities  –  have been implemented, however the conflicts have not been avoided or even resolved.

If you look at the sites inscribed on the list in danger, the reality is contrary. Most of the sites in danger are in Arab States (21 cultural sites) and Africa (12 natural sites), that is to say in developing countries. This means, the future perspective of World Heritage has not only to include the analyses of the causes of heritage in danger but has also to provide strategies to overcome this unbalanced distribution of sites inscribed in the World Heritage list and the World Heritage list in danger.

However, the project does not focus only on the sites, which are currently on the list in danger. As the perception is the future, we need to reflect upon the overall and worldwide social, cultural, economic and ecological developments that the heritage of humanity faces currently. And based on the concept of identifying conflicts, developing resolving strategies and perceiving the future through the integration of heritage into the Agenda 2030, we will carry out the project through thinks tanks, a conference and a book.

Thinks Tanks

International Governance

Coordinating Expert: Dr. Roland Bernecker, Visiting Professor for Cultural Management, BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg

Short Introduction
In a globalizing world with deepening economic and political interdependencies, the system of the United Nations is the most important institutional arena for developing global standards that provide universal guidelines for national cultural policies. Notwithstanding the impressive diversity of their cultural and political foundations, in the forum of the UN some 190 Member States endeavour to achieve a shared understanding in selected issues of special import to humanity. The specific political grammar of the UN-system has produced contributions not only to the strengthening of international cooperation, but also, particularly through UNESCO, to a modernization and to the global dissemination of specific cultural concepts, especially concerning the preservation of the cultural heritage in all world regions. The concept of World Heritage is the most famous of these achievements. Today, this form of international cooperation is challenged by a reinvigorating sense of national unilateralism and increasingly antagonistic geopolitical powerplays. As a consequence, the ability of UN-organizations like UNESCO to manage conflicts and promote reconciliation in heritage issues is likely to weaken considerably in the long term.

4, 5, 10, 13, 16, 17

Urban Transformation

Coordinating Expert: Matthias Ripp, World Heritage Coordinator, Stadt Regensburg

Short Introduction
Urban Transformation has always been happening. While urbanization is a process that began in the 19th century, when the supply situation of the rural population in many parts of the world led to migration to the cities, resulting in many changes in both their habitats and living conditions, it has been determined also by industrialization. Today, due to the facets of modernization, urbanization is a phenomenon that encompasses both cities and rural areas. At the same time, cities are subject to transformation in various ways. On the one hand, this concerns processes of gentrification and on the other hand, the expansion of slums, as well as the associated loss of traditions and customs. It also concerns the commodification of cultural monuments and thus the destruction of tangible substance and identities as well as the change in urban functions, ranging from tourism to creative industries and urban perceptions. Transformation is a phenomenon that influences any type of infrastructure development and thereby affects social, cultural and technical values. Therefore, urban transformation is a phenomenon that is both multidimensional and at the same time cannot be fully examined.  Transformation is also connected to the rise of urban topics like innovation, urban resilience and circular economies. This chapter examines some of the elements that have a direct impact on both tangible and intangible heritage.

4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13

Technological Change

Coordinating Experts: UNESCO Chair on World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve Observation and Education, Prof. Dr. Alexander Siegmund & Dr. Tobias Matusch, Department of Geography – Research Group for Earth Observation (rgeo), Heidelberg University of Education

Short Introduction
The urge for technological progress is an integral part of the human being and thus closely linked to the history of humankind. Many World Heritage Sites bear witness of the impressive technological achievements of different eras. Especially since industrialization in the middle of the 19th century, technological progress has steadily gained momentum on a global level. On the one hand, there is a danger of abandoning structures and relics that have grown over centuries and therefore losing important parts of the world heritage. This concerns in Europe, for example, old coal and steel regions and production structures, but also transformation in the agricultural sector, among other things due to increasing globalization and displacement of local cultivation practices and knowledge. On the other hand, technological change always opens new possibilities and perspectives. More efficient production methods are replacing outdated structures including new environmentally friendly processes, for instance in the field of renewable energies. New Earth observation satellites and detection methods enable innovative methods to map and monitor World Heritage Sites even more precisely and a more multi-facetted manner. The chapter is therefore dedicated to technological change and understands it both as a threat to the world heritage and as a perspective for its preservation at the same time.

7, 8, 9, 12, 15

War and Terrorism

Coordinating Expert: Prof. Dr. Friedrich Schipper,  Prof. of Archaeology at the University Heiligenkreuz, Chairperson of the Competence Centre for Cultural Heritage, Cultural Property Protection and Cultural Communication, Lecturer at the University of Vienna (Austria) etc.

Short Introduction
Heritage destruction resulting from acts of war and terrorism has become one of the key problems of the 21st century. By destroying monuments and other tangible heritage, terrorists aim to destroy cultural identity and recruit followers to their revisionist ideology. However, the destruction of heritage for purposes of destroying identity is not a new phenomenon; on the contrary, it can be seen throughout the history of the human being. Therefore, this chapter reflects upon the different aspects of heritage destruction in times of war. To begin, this chapter gives insights into the reality of heritage destruction as a terrorist activity and the current state of affairs. Furthermore, through case studies, the effects of this destruction on the local and regional population will be shown. The chapter also looks at various international laws and the creation of lawless areas. Finally, it offers suggestions and possible solutions regarding how to deal with this destruction.

2, 4, 8, 11, 16

Climate Change

Coordinating Expert: Dr. Claire Cave, University of Dublin

Short Introduction
The phenomenon of climate change is as overarching as the previously presented phenomena. In this respect, climate change affects processes of urbanization, migration and the modernization of societies. This means that it would be presumptuous to assume that all of the effects of climate change on the tangible, intangible or natural heritage of people and their societies are already known fully. This includes reflections on the endangerment of cultural heritage and habitats as a consequence of natural catastrophes in small and big cities. It reflects the threatening of monuments and other tangible heritage sites through damages caused by heavy rains, water flooding or by different forms of storms with impacts on built heritage etc.

4, 6, 11, 13, 14, 15

Commodification of Heritage

Coordinating Expert: Prof. Dr. Thomas Schmitt, Professorship for Cultural Heritage and the Protection of Cultural Properties, Heidelberg Center for Cultural Heritage (HCCH), Universität Heidelberg

Short Introduction
In the course of time, the value of tangible and intangible heritage in peoples’ minds has changed fundamentally. This can be seen mainly in the change of values of heritage from a cultural good to a product, or in other words, the commodification of cultural heritage values. The commodification of cultural heritage goes along with the processes of nominating tangible and intangible heritage, and it is legitimated through economic development reasons. It can be seen in the increasing interest of nominating sites exclusively due to tourism use, in the destruction and reconstruction of tangible heritage for commercial use or in the populist devaluation of intangible traditions due to commercial interest. The adoption of the heritage conventions were based on an understanding of heritage as a creator of identity and peoples’ responsibility to transform it from the past to the present to future including the needs for social, economic and ecological development. Today, regrettably neither the benefits of these commodification processes on the societies and their members are investigated nor the disadvantages are known. Therefore, the impacts of the commodification processes on the people have to be investigated as well as on the heritage of humankind itself.

4, 8, 11, 12, 16

Procedure & Timing

The three components of the project, namely a Book, a Conference and Think Tanks, as well as the selection criteria are described in the chapter Outcome.  Concerning the timing, below are the important dates:

  • Submission of papers for the Think Tanks – 31 January 2021, and presentation at the Think Tank – early March 2021 (Papers must be submitted to the project coordinator, Anca Claudia Prodan, Ph.D. prodan@ina-fu.org).
  • Submission of papers for the Conference – 30 June 2021, and presentation at the Conference – July 2021.
  • Submission of papers, revised based on peer-review – 30 September 2021, and submission of final papers, revised based on copy-editing/proof reading – 30 November 2021


  • Marie-Theres Albert - 50 Years World Heritage Convention: Shared Responsibility - Conflict & Reconciliation [slides]


Institute Heritage Studies (IHS)
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Prof. Dr. Marie-Theres Albert (albert@ina-fu.org)