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Naturecultures Dialogue: Connecting Practice

By Brenda Barrett August 3, 2020

Session 8 with Gwenaëlle Bourdin, Leticia Leitão, Carlo Ossola, and Nupur ProthiKhanna

In our new series of naturecultures sessions that runs from May to September 2020, presentations are pre-circulated, leaving most of the dialogue session open for active discussion. In this particular session we had four separate presentations circulated under the theme Connecting Practice. The abstract (overview of Connecting Practice), and link to these 10-16minute presentations is included on the next page. This summary is drawn up from comments that came up in the dialogue session, and elaborated on in the email discussion afterwards. These comments are general, abstract expressions, and personal thoughts that are not necessarily associated with the view of ICOMOS, IUCN or any other organisation.  

The objectives of this particular dialogue session were to:

  • Share information on the Connecting Practice project – its origins, aims and approach, and current status 
  • Share and discuss lessons learned to date from Connecting Practice project and individual World Heritage properties rich in naturecultures values
  • Discuss the implications of lessons learned for conservation practice today – and some of the important challenges remaining for naturecultures integration 
  • Discuss how to best share lessons learned more broadly and how best to encourage continued dialogue on naturecultures integration


Since 2013, ICOMOS and IUCN have been conducting ‘Connecting Practice’ – a joint project aimed at developing new methods and conservation strategies that recognize and sustain the interconnected character of the natural, cultural, and social values of World Heritage sites. A short-term goal of the project is to develop practical strategies for a more integrated conservation approach and to improve coordination and deepen collaboration between cultural and natural sectors to achieve better conservation outcomes. In the longer term, the more ambitious goal is to gain a deeper understanding of interconnections of culture and nature and influence shifts in the conceptual and practical approaches for values assessment, governance and management within the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and beyond. This approach is intended to “bridge the divide” that is often observed between natural and cultural heritage — overcoming the many unintended adverse outcomes that can result. This collaborative project is designed to learn from current practice by having interdisciplinary project teams work directly with staff and partners from World Heritage sites that illustrate the inter-linkage of cultural and natural heritage. In this dialogue session, four professionals will share their experience and lessons they learned from their involvement in the Connecting Practice project. They will also reflect on shifts in their own perspective and their observations on recent changes in conservation practice. We invite your participation in the dialogue on recent innovations in practice and reflections on lessons from your own experience with conservation of places rich in naturecultures values. We also invite your suggestions on ways in which the Connecting Practice project and lessons learnt might be shared with other members of the ISCCL and beyond. 

Link to Presentations by the four panellists, the reading material, and recording of the dialogue session:  HERE


1Alicia Cahn (AC)21Maureen Thibault (MT)
2Archer St Clair Harvey (AH)22Mary Laheen (ML)
3Ana Bajcura (AB)23Maya Ishizawa (MI) 
4Anna Gaynutdinova (AG)24Meetali Gupta (MG)
5Aurelie Fernandez (AF)25Monalisa Maharjan (MM)
6Bansal Suramya (BS)26Monica Luengo (ML) 
7Brent Mitchell (BM)27Natali Bolomey (NB)
8Brenda Barrett (BB)28Nancy Pollock Elwand (NPE)
9Carlo Ossola (CO) Panelist29Nora Mitchell (NM) Session Co-Organiser 
10Cira Szklowin (CS)30Nupur Prothi (NP) Panelist 
11Cari Goetchus (CG)31Patricia ODonnell (POD)
12Darwina Neal (DN)32Paul Jurcys (PJ)
13Gwenaelle Bourdin (GB) Panelist33Priyanka Singh (PS)
14Helen Wilson (HW)34Rohit Jigyasu (RJ)
15Jessica Brown (JB)35Sanaa Niar (SN)
16Je-Hun Ryu (JR)  36Steve Brown (SB) Moderator; Session Co-Organiser
17Kate Lim (KL)37Supitcha Sutthanonku (SS)
18Leticia Leitao (LL) Panelist38Tim Badman (TB) Respondent
19Kristal Buckley (KB) Respondent39Tomeu Deya (TD)
20Marike Franklin (MF) Dialogues Convenor40 


General comments on the session and Connecting Practice SB: This dialogue provided the opportunity to reflect on what has been learned from the Connecting Practice project; and to consider what has begun to change and where challenges remain and more effort is needed.  CS: I think that this project was admirably conceived, in the sense that it provides the basic conditions for a built-in process of interdisciplinary, multi-actor, system-based discussions that connect practices. This evolving process will eventually lead to a conceptual and operational integration of naturecultures and perhaps to institutional convergence.  The on-going results from the project, and future initiatives/actions, has the capacity to evolve, grow in complexity and embody an interactive framework.  Matching the conceptual, evaluation and conservation/management aspects involved in the naturecultures value integration. The change has begun. KB: Some wonderful points were made – and the materials that were uploaded in advance were really thoughtful. It’s a complete pleasure to join such well-organised and thoughtful discussions. The cause continues – but for me, it has been incredibly encouraging and inspiring to see this become a topic of more ‘mainstream’ discussion in ICOMOS SB, CS, KB
Education NPE: We divide culture and nature institutionally, in policy, governance, across disciplines, field, etc. It seems if we are to improve the divide, we need to change our approach in terms of education — I would be interested to know the panelists’ ideas on how we may change our educational approaches to accommodate a more integrated view of nature and culture.   RJ: Terminology from nature and culture sectors…Have you come across terms that are understood/defined differently in the two sectors…How did you reconcile these differences?TB: Yes agree with this Nancy Pollock Elwand’s though we need to challenge the “we” here since that term I think comes loaded with assumptions and part of the reality, at least in terms of international practice, is that many cultures, and most communities, don’t separate nature and culture (or even have words for the terms, but have played too little role in the discourse, and defining standards, methods etc.  One place to see an IUCN take on this is that we have an resolution from 2008… Recognition of the diversity of concepts and values of nature.It is also striking to me that indigenous peoples, and in particular indigenous youth, have been speaking out in the Convention on Biological Diversity on the importance of culturally appropriate education, considering how the transmission of traditional knowledge is inseparable from education in local and traditional languages.  We need to see conservation and education as inseparable.Regarding the broader point then I think changes in international courses could include a particular focus on integration in course syllabi for some of our key disciplines, and this would include both the inclusion of more anthropology in ecology courses, and more ecology in courses concerned with landscapes.  And I think all people who work internationally should be able to demonstrate some cross-cultural understanding of how different languages and cultures frame the people/nature/culture relationship … to push back on a discussion that is about diversity, but only happens in few languages, and especially in English.  Finding courses that are leading by example in this space and promoting them would be a practical thing to do, and something that ICOMOS and IUCN could team up on.  There are relations to build with UNESCO here too, in their education sector.MG: I personally don’t agree with targeting the ‘marginalised society’ (reference to NP’s comment in session). The exercise might work even with school kids in general. One of the Indian design studios has been doing it.NP: Thanks MG for your observation. Working with the marginalised communities was a mandate of the project. We just experimented and decided to work with children and youth instead of adults.CS: It seems to me that one of the worst problems of this institutional divide -resulting from an anachronic sectorial organizational and a correlating culture dealing with single aspects of the naturecultures reality-, is the generalized disregard of interactions and transversal links. I think that between this failing institutional state and educational approaches there is room to experiment/create new arrangement based on projects –like this ICOMOS/IUCN one, a replicable model for other complex domains- involving different professional disciplines around a complex task, building in time a common vocabulary (and hopefully an articulated set of approaches), by working together and in interactions with institutional and community actors.LL: Regarding NP’s question on how to change educational approaches to accommodate for a more integrated view of nature and culture, my first reaction is that this is a really large and complex question and we should be very careful of coming up with “simplistic solutions”. As argued by Yuval Noah Harari, in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, “For 300 years the world has been dominated by humanism, which sanctifies the life, happiness and power of Homo sapiens”.  In my view, we are talking about ways of thinking and organizing societies that have evolved over centuries and this will be very difficult to change. Tim (TB) rightly mentions that certain cultures do not separate humans from nature. However, in my opinion the prevalent “world view” is one where humans don’t think of themselves as one species among many but as a superior species, which controls nature. Whether we like it or not, more and more we live in an interconnected world, where different cultural groups are blending into a single global civilization.   To grasp the disconnect between this way of thinking from that of a cultural group that perceives humans as part of nature, I invite you to have a look at Alessandro Pignocchi’s book called “Petit traité d’ecologie sauvage”. I have it in French and I am not sure if it exists in other languages.   On a more positive note, and a concrete example on changing the educational approach, I suggest you read the article from the Guardian’s columnist George Monbiot’s on “Coronavirus show us it’s time to rethink everything. Let’s start with education”, RJ, TB, CS, LL, MG, NP
Natural and cultural values that are in continues flux RJ: How do we understand natural and cultural values in continuous flux…always evolving and changing? We may understand them, how they existed in the past…but the interrelationships have changed in the present context….and they are going to further change in the future. Reconciling this change/evolution is a challenge especially in the light of exponential climate change.TB: Yes, fully agree. We need to understand exactly this point.  It is axiomatic for nature conservation approaches since ecosystems are always changing.  But we need to be better at really understanding past change, time depth in landscapes and including the timescales, cycles and the socio-economic interactions and legacies.  Contested histories, past injustice, long term impacts of colonialism, national and community narratives, and migration all intersect in this space in ways that can be fundamental in moving to just and inclusive conservation practice.  There are also tools and methods that we can share and learn from here … the impact assessment is all about this, climate is a hugely important focus with both the combination of new science and local knowledge, plus methods like “Limits of Acceptable Change”.CS: Auto organized systems permanently change to adapt to, and evolve with their contexts, while at the same time, maintaining the basic set of interrelationships related to its core identity. I agree that the challenge for us is how to understand the core interdependent values, and dynamic thresholds to configure a naturecultures system adaptive capacity for conservation.LL: I agree with RJ’s views as well as with TB’s point that we need to be better at understanding past change. But I also think that we first need to acknowledge past change, that is, that heritage (natural or cultural) is the result of cumulative layers of change and evolution over time and that it is normal that natural things will continue to change. That said, it is critical to understand the speed and the scale of that change and when the effects of that change will be felt. This is particularly important in relation to climate change because the effects of actions taken decades ago will only be felt fully decades from now. In systems thinking these are called delays.  There are both perceptions delays (identifying and recognizing the effects) and response delays (actually act on it and starting to see the results of the responses) … while in the meantime the system might have changed again and the responses might be insufficient or inadequate!    RJ, TB, CS, LL
Systems ThinkingPOD: Carlos mentioned systems drawn from ecological work. Leticia noted in her video about systems as arising all at once, not sequentially and recognizing these as a “eureka” in connecting practices. Any comments?   TB:  I think Leticia’s paper brilliantly makes this point, and the intersecting points regarding interdisciplinary approaches, and RJ’s above point is also connected … plus also the point we got to in the seminar that we need to bring a levelling of specialists and communities (viz science and traditional knowledge, viz empowering locally led solutions ahead of top-down thinking, viz empowering diversity in conservation…  The challenge here is to find ways of working that can recognise systems thinking, without getting paralysed by rational-comprehensives, or by finding that we talk the talk about systems, but leave out the human and social dimensions because of lack of inclusion, or because we have gaps in data or approaches that favour quantitative science.  I think the dialogue pointed to several ways that Connecting Practice is finding solutions in practice to this question.TD: Stakeholders should be on the decision-making site board and not just in participative groups as consultants.CS: A system can arise/emerge as a new one when it is pushed over the limits of its existential context, or when it reaches a basic auto organized state.  Also, the meaning of an image or the perception of a visual landscape is grasped in a sudden and interconnected way, as opposed to the sequential eliciting of the meaning of a text. And Patricia’s interpretation (“eureka”) of Leticia expression (“arising all at once”) is also an attribute of a complex, multilevel, nonlinear system.AB: When the systems as arising all at once, the connection is to connect with our inside, with all the senses and feelings at the same time: touch, smell, sights, sounds, temperature. Because “nature” is so complex and amazing and will always surprise us. When it succeeds all at the same time, we have a real connection with all our world. After this Session, and reading/watching the presentations again, it allowed me some thoughts:We work In nature and not with nature. Because In means inside, wrapped in it, that “nature” is bigger than us … for us to be inside nature.If we work “with” Nature, it is like we work with another person … at the same level. We can share with them at the same level, in the sense of taking it, being on par. The rules are those of nature, not of what we want. I think when the authorities can understand and recognise this difference, this world begin to be better.BS: Self-reflexivity and ground-truthing will definitely make a huge difference in realizing and understanding inherent and localised wisdom and knowledge.TB: Totally agree with this point, change needs both a large reflection, but roots in diverse local realities.POD, TB, CS, AB, BS

Lessons learnt and Phase 4  SB: I understand that there is funding available for Connecting Practice Stage 4. If so, it would be great to know what the objectives of Stage 4 will be. Gwenaelle and Leticia – do you know what these are, please?I also have a broader question for the group, especially those not familiar with the Connecting Practice project. What do you think are the best ways to share the lessons learned from Connecting Practice? At present this is done through publishing reports on the ICOMOS and IUCN websites; through presentations at conferences; and through publications. What other ways could be used to share with broader audiences the lessons learned?MF: Do you think looking at an integrated management plan is a good starting point in sharing an outcome of the connecting practice project? Seeing a tangible product which encapsulates the lessons learnt on a particular site would certainly be interesting to look at. From the Connecting Practice chapter as part of the reading (Leiticia et al; 2019 p 6) on the Drakensberg Case Study in South Africa:Being part of the Connecting Practice offered park management a unique opportunity to realise a need to develop one all-encompassing and ‘genuine’ Integrated Management Plan for the Park which will allocate equal significance and equal status to both the natural and cultural values of the Park.Has this Integrated Management Plan been done already? If so, perhaps that’s a good one to share with the group? LL: Regarding the question on the integrated management plan for Maloti-Drakensberg, I would expect the plan to have been completed by now and even started to be implemented, since I saw a draft of it almost two years ago. That said, I would be careful on promoting it as an example (as I am each time that people ask me for good examples of management plans!). To me, more than the content of the management plan, what was important was the will to come up with an “encompassing” plan because it was a first step (and major step) to bridge existing institutional divides. It meant that two different institutions agreed to work together in a planned organized way with shared objectives. 

Circulated pre-reading: 

Recommended reading: 

Buckley, Kristal, Gwenaëlle Bourdin, Maureen Thibault, Leanna Wigboldus, Luisa DeMarco, and Tim Badman. “Connecting Practice: operationalizing concepts and strategies for integrating nature and cultural heritage in the World Heritage Convention”. In N. Mitchell, et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the US/ICOMOS International Symposium Forward Together: A Culture-NatureJourney Toward More Effective Conservation in a Changing World, 13-14November 2018, The Presidio, San Francisco, California, 2019. (Attached as a pdf)

Leitão, Leticia, LeannaWigboldus, GwenaëlleBourdin, Tim Badman, Zsuzsa Tolnay, and Oscar Mthimkhulu. “ConnectingPractice: Defining new methods and strategies to further integrate natural and cultural heritage under the World Heritage Convention.” In Bas Verschuuren and Steve Brown (Eds.)Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Areas,Governance, Management and Policy, 151-163.London and New York:Routledge, 2019. (Attached as a pdf)

Further reading: 

For an overview of the three phases of Connecting Practice project, see the attached pdf and presentation on the Connecting Practice project, given by Maureen Thibault of the ICOMOSInternational Secretariat at the CultureNature Journey Webinar organized by the ICOMOS EPWG (Emerging Professionals Working Group) on 16 May 2020. Please refer to minutes 18:45-51:17 for Maureen’s presentation.

Leitão,Leticia, Gwenaëlle Bourdin, Tim Badman, and Leanna Wigboldus. Connecting Practice Phase II: Final Report. ICOMOS/IUCN, 2017. (available in English, French and Chinese), see

This meeting: Connecting Practice

Nupur Prothi Khanna, Leticia Leitao, Carlo Ossola, and Gwaenelle Bourdin 

29 June 2020 8PM GMT

The next meeting: Integrative Approaches to Nature and Culture in Rural Landscapes

Mary Laheen, Brenda Barrett, and Jessica Brown

27 July 2020 1 PM GMT


Mesa Verde National Park: Reinterpreting a Landscape

By Brenda Barrett October 31, 2019
Ranger tour of Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

The word landscape jumps out at you on many of the interpretative signs at Mesa Verde National Park and the real thing is before you at every overlook.  The park established in 1906, ten years before the creation of the National Park Service, was later designated as the first World Heritage cultural site in the United States (1978). The original motive for creating the park came out of a growing interest in the archaeology of the Southwest that also lead to the creation of national monuments such as Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, Hovenweep and Aztec Ruins.  What made Mesa Verde standout to the early settlers and explorers were the extensive ‘cliff houses and ancient ruins’. In 1892 the writer Frederick Chapin visited one of the larger sites and described it as “occupying a great oval space under a grand cliff wonderful to behold, appearing like an immense ruined castle with dismantled towers.” 

Mesa Verde National Park’s World Heritage Plaque prominently displayed at the entrance to the park’s Chapin Museum

 In part it was this cross-cultural comparison of the structures to European building types that focused attention on Mesa Verde as something special in North America – a place that needed to be preserved. This was not to say the that the artifacts associated with the site were not seen as important. In fact, the designation was made more urgent by the continued threat of pothunting and vandalism of the sites in the cliffs and on the mesa tops.

For years Mesa Verde National Park was described as a place shrouded in mystery. The people who lived there were portrayed as having suddenly abandoned the cliff dwelling and just disappeared. The builders were labeled the Anasazi a term derived from the Navajo word meaning ‘ancient ones’ or alternatively ‘ancient enemies’, which added to the confusion. Now we know that these people did not disappear, but migrated south to become the ancestors of the modern-day pueblo and Hopi people.  Today park interpretation refers to the cliff dwellers as Ancestral Puebloans who like so many people around the globe migrated to other places for other opportunities. 

Just as importantly, current research places the people of Mesa Verde in a much larger regional context. Settlements that date from between 350 BC and AD 1300, the span of settlement on Mesa Verde, are found throughout southwestern Colorado and in the Four Corners region. Current research also links the people of Mesa Verde to one of the centers of Puebloan culture Chaco Cultural National Historical Park  another World Heritage site (1987).  As our ranger said on a recent tour of Cliff Palace, by the 1200s the region had a larger population than live here today. He told us that if we could have looked out from the tops of the mesas at night, we would see the fires from towns and villages that spread to the horizon. This image helps visualize the peopling of the region at a landscape scale. 

Burned landscape on Wetherill Mesa

The newer interpretation gives visitors a better understanding of the past population of Mesa Verde, but does not answer the question of why did they leave the region after 1300s? Possibly for some the same threats that hover over the Mesa Verde today – changes in the environment and changes in climate. The park has not shied away from this topic. A recent study has shown that today’s hot and dry conditions in Mesa Verde have exceeded climates fluxes in the past.  A park resource manager noted that nearly 70% of the landscape in the 52,485-acre park has been altered in just the last few decades for reasons that tie directly back to climate change. Namely, drought-driven fires.h

This has had a severe impact on the mesa top landscape fires have been able to take hold that have burned off acres and acres of the pinon-juniper forests. While periodic droughts were common to the region in the past, the current level is unprecedented. A 2016 UNESCO report on World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate hspecifically identified the park as facing serious risks rising temperatures and declining rainfall. A combination could cause increased wildfires that might irreversibly damage the park. 

Banner at the entrance to the Park Museum

How is the park telling these newer stories? First, by recognizing the ancestral Puebloan roots of the people of Mesa Verde in park waysides and in ranger talks and programs,  and  also by offering  forthright statements on climate change. A prominent banner in the Chapin Museum states that while climate change has always been with us “Today the rate of change is greater than in any other time in the earth’s history.”

Mesa Verde National Park has relatively lower visitation (563,000 in 2018) compared to some other parks on the Colorado Plateau with over 1.5 million visors a year. However, it is no backwater when it comes to sharing the latest findings in history and science. 

Congratulations to all! 


The Nature Culture Journey continues: The Presidio in San Francisco

By Brenda Barrett December 10, 2018

Presidio San Francisco Courtesy of

It is not news that we need a global conversation on how to integrate the conservation of cultural and natural values on the landscape. This has been an on-going discussion for decades. However, in the last couple of years the dialogue has gained momentum. At the IUCN-sponsored World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i (September 2016) a purposeful Nature/Culture Journey   was launched to bring together the best ideas on the topic. This dialogue was then continued with a more explicitly cultural focus at the ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi (December 2017).

In November of 2018, US ICOMOS took the next step by sponsoring the symposium Forward Together: A Culture-Nature Journey Towards More Effective Conservation in a Changing World at the Presidio in San Francisco. The gathering brought together experts from six continents and 15 countries to share a range of ideas on better integrating culture and nature on the ground. The goal was development of actionable strategies for more effective and sustainable conservation.

The Culture/Nature Journey ICOMOS General Assembly 2017 Delhi

To generate content for the gathering, a joint ICOMOS-IUCN Symposium Program Committee solicited papers from around the globe and received over 150 abstracts. These were reviewed by teams with membership in either ICOMOS, IUCN, or both. The diversity of the paper proposals was reflected in the presentations by the 45 selected speakers. Thanks to an excellent team of moderators and rapporteurs, the symposium sessions were used to both hear from the speakers and also from all participants who were challenged to identify key findings and next steps. The session presentations and the outcomes of the discussions will be available as an online publication of the papers in the new year. Preliminary cross-cutting themes and ideas have already emerged around the four conferences themes such as:

  1. The overriding importance of adopting a landscape approach for the conservation of cultural and natural resources — from urban to rural places.
  • There is increasing understanding that the concept of heritage is centered in a dynamic landscape. For this reason, it is critical that we adopt strategies that recognize and adapt to this reality.
  • The field of conservation must adopt a landscape scale approach to address the urgent issues facing our planet particularly our changing climate.
  • Challenges remain in defining and protecting cultural landscapes – in particular thos landscapes with ethnographic values.
  • A better understanding of collaboration and other soft skills are critical to landscape scale management.

2. The recognition of intangible heritage and diverse perspectives is essential to integrated conservation strategies.

  • It is essential to focus on both the cultural and spiritual meaning of nature.
  • People are at the center of this issue and only by honoring their world view and their work up can we make a difference.
  • Conservation strategies that integrate these values demonstrably improve conservation outcomes.

3. Building resilience, adaptation, and sustainability for urban and rural landscapes.

  •  Climate change is profoundly impacting both nature and culture and there may not be much time left.
  • As demonstrated at the conference, there are many locally based initiatives to create more resilient places by blending nature and culture and employing traditional practices or adapting those practices to new conditions.
  • These strategies to make the landscape more resilient need to be shared and linked to for maximum effectiveness.

4.Considering the past and future of the World Heritage List from the perspective of the United States (US)

  •  The US was once a leader in the World Heritage program and despite changes in government policies, the interest in designation has never been higher.
  • It is now understood that in the United States every World Heritage site has a cultural component.
  • A strategy to engage local communities as well as the traditional users of World Heritage Sites should be a component of every location.
  • Taking a landscape scale approach is a strategy to manage serial nominations.

The meeting opened with a distinguished plenary panel included Mechtild Rossler, by video from UNESCO in Paris, former US National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and Stephanie Meeks President of the US National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). The speakers mused about their personal awakening to the importance of understanding the unity of culture and nature.

Former NPS Director John Jarvis related his experience working in Alaska and Stephanie Meeks noted her shift in perspective coming from the Nature Conservancy to the National Trust. Also, on the panel representing ICOMOS was Kristal Buckley and representing IUCN, Tim Badman both of whom reported on the commitment to working together on this critical issue.

In listening to the presentations and the subsequent discussion, symposium attendees were struck by the work that is going on “out there” and how it has been localized and adapted to meet community needs.  The usefulness of merging the two perspectives is bubbling up from practice in the real world. However, there is a need to develop more informed policies in region of the globe and strengthen the understanding of local governments. It was noted that the fields of culture and nature are divided from the top, but not from the bottom. Taking an integrated landscape approach seems to be delivering better conservation outcomes, but there many opportunities to make the work more effective.

With only 160 attendees at the symposium, it is fair to ask who is not in the room?  There is a need to include more representation from nature conservationists. Also, a stronger commitment to social justice and equity. Another sector that might make a meaningful contribution is that representing the arts and humanities. Overall conference goers were impressed by the enthusiasm and vitality of the conservations. All agreed that the strong presence of young practitioners and students gave the event a lot of energy and a feeling tha what we are doing is very important for our shared future. Everyone looks forward to the next steps , which include a declaration of the symposium’s top level findings and publication of the papers presented at the event.

In conclusion, recognition should go to the symposium’s dedicated Program Committee. Team members included Committee Co- chairs Nora Mitchell, who serves as a trustee of US ICOMOS, and Jessica Brown who has worked with IUCN on Protected Landscapes for many years. Also, on the team were Brenda Barrett and Archer St. Claire Harvey, both trustees of US ICOMOS. Special thanks  to Amanda Shull US ICOMOS member and past participant in the organization’s International Exchange Program and of course US ICOMOS staff – Executive Director Jane Seiter, former Executive Director Bill Pencek, Membership and Communications Manager Jenny Spreitzer, and exceptional volunteer from down under Lilly Black.

Read here for additional information on the Forward Together event.









The English Lake District: World Heritage Designation One Year In

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2018

World Heritage Plaque English Lake Distict
Image: Chee-Wai Lee

It was last July 2017 that after many decades of effort  the English Lake District was finally recognized as a World Heritage cultural landscape  at the World Heritage Committee’s meeting in Krakow Poland. So how is the Lake District faring one year after designation? In many ways the inscription has not resulted in big changes. The World Heritage bid was put together by the Lake District National Park Partnership (Partnership) and it continues to play a key role in carrying out its stated mission for the Lake District as:  A place where its prosperous economy, world class visitor experiences and vibrant communities come together to sustain the spectacular landscape, its wildlife and cultural heritage.

 Established in 2006, the Partnership currently consists of 25 organizations representing the region’s public, private, community, and voluntary sectors. Its vision and the Partnership’s  Management Plan, was the foundation of the World Heritage nomination. What is most remarkable about the partnership is that it was created without statutory authority or any governmental mandate. Not only did the group prepare the most recent plan to backstop the nomination, but it also is the vehicle for carrying out the strategies to conserve resources and ensure that the site’s Outstanding Universal Values are protected.

In recent discussion with Partnership leaders responsible for implementing the Lake District management strategy, they provided several examples of the value of this partnership approach. When a controversial zip line was proposed across the Thirlmere Reservoir, the National Trust took the unusual step of opposing a project that would not directly impact a property in their ownership. They took the position that the English Lake District National Park should be looked as a unitary resource to be conserved in its totality. The fact that it was now a World Heritage site certainly reinforced this position. In the end the owners of the reservoir, United Utilities, who were also a member of the Partnership determined that the visual intrusion of the project was unacceptable.

The Partnership also has provided a flexible management structure. While the Lake District National Park Authority is the planning authority and the statutory body responsible for managing the national park and the  World Heritage site, recent cuts to National Park budget’s, up to 40% since 2008, have impacted the  Authority’s ability to  deliver services. This had led another partner, the National Trust (the major land owner in the park),  to play a more central role and  to step up its efforts to help out. One example, the Trust has led the discussion within the Partnership regarding a vision for the thirteen valley landscapes in the Lake District over the next fifty years.  This has been challenging for the partners (some of which are self-confessed single-issue lobbying groups).  The task of coordinating the questioning and working with the responses to work up something tangible has fallen to the National Trust who volunteered to co-ordinate a vision and action steps for the region by developing a plan for Sustainable Land Management. While such a visioning exercise might have fallen to the National Park Authority in the past, the Trust volunteered itself and employed additional staff for that purpose.  The approach has been worthwhile in establishing a starting point for the future conservation of these landscapes.

So, the verdict is that the Partnership is working effectively to manage and conserve the national park and the newly designated World Heritage site. However, dealing with outside forces that may impact the Lake District is much more problematic. And in the front of the line of pressing issues is Brexit.  What will it mean for the country’s agricultural policy? This particularly important for the Lake District – as it is noted in the World Heritage nomination the region is an “unrivalled example of a northern Europe upland agro-pastoral system” which is also  ”a land use that continues to today in the face of social, economic and environmental pressures.”

Brexit means leaving the well understood if not always popular rules and subsidies of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy and forging a new direction for British agriculture. Getting this new policy right is important as British farming supplies 60% of the nation’s food and uses 70% of the land area. In February 2018, Michael Grove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, rolled out an ambitious white paper Health and Harmony: The future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit  setting  forth an approach that claims to promote both environmental protection and profitable food production in service of a healthier society. The details of this over 50-page consultation document are too extensive to summarize here. However, the direction is to move away from a system of direct payment for production and reward other public goods such as environmental conservation. Of real interest to the Lake District, the document specifically recognizes the challenges of farmers in “the most remote and wild and beautiful parts of England” and calls out the environmental and cultural values of the rural landscape and the traditional way of life including the  upland environment.

There is much to like in this report starting with the title. The United States could learn a lot by studying the ideas proposed that meld food security, environmental conservation, and rural prosperity. The value placed on the cultural landscape and on such qualities as beauty never appear in any US farm policy document that I have ever seen. While recent US Farm Bills now offer some hard-fought financial support for better  wildlife and water management, proposals to offer financial support to sustain beauty, heritage, and the rural historic environment are unheard of on this side of the pond. It should be noted that this report is only the first step. There is still some time left as the government’s proposal is to maintain the current level of agricultural subsidies until 2021 and to have  a gradual transition of payments thereafter.   However, at a national level it cannot be said that Brexit negotiations are going smoothly and this will inevitably affect the agricultural sector.

Yes, the number of farmers impacted by Brexit in the Lake District is small, estimated at just a few hundred families, but sustaining their way of life is essential to maintaining the landscape’s  Outstanding Universal Value.  All eyes are on the future of farming in these unsettled times.









Interpreting and Representing Slavery

By Brenda Barrett March 26, 2018

Panel on Assessing the Enduring Legacy of Slavery in Today's Societies

Panel on Assessing the Enduring Legacy of Slavery in Today’s Societies

Scholars from four continents gathered in the World Heritage listed Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for a two-day conference on “Interpreting and Representing Slavery and its Legacies in Museums and Sites: International Perspectives” (March 19-20 2018). The conference explored the variety of ways universities, historic sites and museums from around the Atlantic World tell the story of slavery and its far reaching legacy. The project was sponsored by  The conference is sponsored by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the University of Virginia (UVA), and the United States Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS) in collaboration with the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, and Heritage.

Launched in 1994 the Slave Route Project explores the common links between Africa and the Americas. As described by Professor Paul Lovejoy in his article The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture and Religion under Slavery  it was the aim of the UNESCO project to “trace the slave trade from the original points of enslavement in the African interior, through the coastal (and Saharan) entrepots by which slaves were exported from the region, to the societies in the Americas and the Islamic world into which they were imported.”

Attendees at the Interpreting and Representing Slavery Conference

Attendees at the Interpreting and Representing Slavery Conference

In this the project has been very successful. The research that underlies the Slave Route Project includes extensive work on the history from the Africa perspective a topic that from the American side has been neglected or is just not well known. This is critical for understanding how enslaved Africans perceived this new world and modified traditional institutions and cultural practices to adapt to new conditions. The some of the publications from the project are featured on this web site.

The overall goal is to develop through a range of cultural and educational programs to enhance enhances awareness of this slavery and its consequences. The recent conference at UVA  featured museum and historic site practitioners, as well as scholars and public thought leaders who engaged in a knowledge exchange to:

  • Consider the global impact of the slave trade and the legacies of slavery
  • Discuss experiences and best practices on representing and interpreting slavery from different regions of the world
  • Examine the roles of the arts, humanities, and multimedia technology for interpreting and representing the memory and history of slavery
  • Contribute to the elaboration of a handbook on new approaches in interpreting and representing slavery in museums and sites
  • Explore opportunities and possibilities for partnerships among participants and with the UNESCO Slave Route Project.

Below are just a few observations from what was an extraordinarily rich conference. Fortunately, for those who were not able to attend the conference in person, the conference panels are already available to view on line.   

Use of big data

The Slave Routes project has generated a vast amount of data on the 12.5 million enslaved people brought to the new world. The availability of this information is one of the ways to break the chain of silence. And this information is about to become even more accessible. The Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant of $1.47 million to eight universities to link their individual data bases. When finished, the project, “Enslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade,” will enable scholars and the public to search millions of pieces of slave data to identify enslaved individuals and their descendants. Users also will be able to run analyses of enslaved populations and create maps, charts, and graphics. (Hear Dr. Paul Lovejoy speak on this initiative at the First  Session at the conference)

Making the connection to individuals

Rotunda University of Virginia

Rotunda University of Virginia

While the scale of the slave trade is important to understand, the conference speakers emphasized the need to recognize the individuality and humanity of each enslaved person. Both the Provost Dr. Louis Nelson and the President Dr. Teresa Sullivan in their introductory remarks used the names of the enslaved laborers who constructed the Rotunda where we were meeting. Other projects are underway to build a data base of enslaved individuals to break the silence by putting a name to each enslaved person. (Listen to Session One – Welcome to the conference)

The psychological impacts of slavery

One of the most powerful presentations at the conference was by Dr. Benjamin Bowser who addressed the long term consequences of the slave trade on mental health. These impacts have long gone unrecognized yet still influence behavior today. (Listen to Dr. Bowser speak at the Second Session)

 Role of museums and universities

The overall goal of the conference was to examine the variety of approaches used at museums and sites around the Atlantic to represent the history and legacies of the slave trade, slavery, as well as  emancipation with experts from the U.S. South Africa, the Netherlands, France and more. While this topic infused all the sessions at the conference, the panel on ‘Universities Confronting Slavery’ raised many challenging questions. Such as many universities are   historical actors with connections to slavery, what steps have these universities taken towards repairing historic injustices?  (Listen to session 5 for more information)

Importance of the arts and humanities

Early Immigrants by Ed Dwight

Early Immigrants by Ed Dwight


Also permeating the conference and rare at a history conference were the role of arts and humanities as an essential part of the story. Many speakers looked at how the arts can play a role in expressing and transmitting memory. (Listen to Mr. Ed Dwight speak on creating memorials to slavery on Session Six panel)



Again don’t just stop with my brief summaries of a few of the conference highlights. Go to the conference web site and listen in!  







Threats to the Conservation of U.S. Marine Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett October 30, 2017

 Remains of the USS Macaw that sank near Midway Island. Credit: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA

Remains of the USS Macaw that sank near Midway Island.
Credit: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA

Overshadowed by the controversy over shrinking the size of national monuments that protect large swaths of the United States’ western landscapes, is a parallel effort to change the protected status of the nation’s marine resources. While all eyes have been focused on Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce has been preparing its own report on the future of marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries. The report is not yet public, but could impact a broad area of the nation’s off shore real estate.

Included in the Department’s review are the Marianas Trench, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Pacific Remote Islands, Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments as well as the Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, Monterey Bay and Thunder Bay national marine sanctuaries and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Taken together areas make up 425 million off shore acres in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

What is at stake?

National Marine Sanctuaires  Courtesey NOAA

National Marine Sanctuaires
Courtesey NOAA

The Department of Commerce could propose changes to these protected areas such as boundary reductions particularly for the more recently designated national monuments like the recent expansion of Papahānaumokuākea, which is also inscribed as a World Heritage site. However, just as risky to the conservation of these monuments and sanctuaries as a boundary change would be change in permitted activities. For example, allowing energy development such as off shore oil and gas drilling and allowing commercial fishing in areas where it is now banned. At this time national marine and monuments sanctuaries are similar to national parks. Although fishing is allowed in some of them, oil and gas drilling is banned, as is undersea mining.

The review began in April of 2017 with an Executive Order that directed the Department of Commerce to examine six national marine sanctuary expansions and five marine national monument designations and expansions are part of this review. In the Public comment period over this summer nearly 100,000 comments were received, with 99 percent in favor of retaining the existing boundaries of the protected ocean areas. But the cold facts are that public opinion may carry little weight. The Commerce Department’s recommendations have not seen the light of day, however, if the outcomes follow the path of the land based monument things are not looking up for the marine protected areas. President Trump has already announced he will shrink the boundaries of two national monuments in Utah Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and this could just be the beginning. Recently the Department of the Interior offered its largest lease sale ever for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. This action sounds an ominous note for those marine landscapes whose special protective status maybe stripped away. Stay tuned.

One side note:  Why is the Department of Commerce undertaking this review? The answer is that through a quirk in evolutionary bureaucracy the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  , which has its roots, two hundred years deep in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and the US Fish and Fisheries Commission, has the current responsibility to oversee both national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments  a system that conserves a network of ocean and Great Lakes environments with extraordinary biodiversity, scenic beauty, cultural heritage and economic opportunity.  .






Nature and Culture: The Journey Continues

By Brenda Barrett August 29, 2017

The voyaging canoe Hokulea'a Credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV.

The voyaging canoe Hokulea’a
Credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV.

In 2013, the traditional voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa set sail from Hawai’i on a round-the-world journey using only traditional Polynesian wayfinding techniques, including observations of the stars, the sun, the ocean swells, the winds, birds, and other signs of nature. After a journey of over 60,000 miles, visiting more than 23 countries and territories and 150 ports, the Hōkūleʻa returned to Hawai’i on 17 June 2017. The wayfarers carried a message of Mālama Honua –  a Hawaiian expression meaning “to care for our island Earth” – and gathered ideas to meet the challenges facing our world today.

And so it was in September 2016 that another journey occurred with similar intentions to the Hōkūleʻa – this one at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Hawai’i .  In the Hawaiian spirit of Mālama Honua, over 8,000 people travelled to Honolulu from around the world to share ideas and learn from each other’s innovations to better address the many conservation challenges facing our planet.

unnamedIn the conservation world, the two faces of nature and culture have become more a dichotomy than a duality. And yet, there is growing recognition that only by taking a more holistic approach can the field address the most urgent issues facing our planet – climate change, urbanization, and the transformations wrought by globalization. To explore these challenges  a Nature-Culture Journey was launched part of the larger WCC conference. It brought together a broad array ideas that touch on the duality of the nature – culture divide. For example, how the World Heritage Convention has shaped our perceptions of the two fields, the role of indigenous communities, traditional knowledge and spiritual values, and the challenges of conserving agricultural heritage landscapes.  While it would be impossible to represent the many threads of dialogue from last September’s journey, an upcoming issue of the George Wright Journal titled Nature – Culture Journeys: Explorations on Shared Terrain is dedicated to highlighting some of these intersections from   different fields and different geographies. The Journal provides a dive into some of the most critical topics where nature and culture merge and is a must read for those who recognize the urgency of taking a holistic perspective for a sustainable future.

March Billings Rockefeller National Historic Site Credit: Nora Mitchell

March Billings Rockefeller National Historic Site
Credit: Nora Mitchell

To read all of the articles in this issue of the George Wright Journal Nature – Culture Journeys: Explorations on Shared Terrain, you will need to become a member of the society. Note that selected content from this issue is available now and all the  content will become available to all readers on line after the publication of the next issue of the Journal.

As a reader of this blog I know you will be interested in this issue of the George Wright Journal and I urge you to consider becoming a member and supporting the mission of the society. The George Wright Society promotes professional research and resource stewardship. As a bridge between science and management, the GWS brings together hundreds of leaders across disciplines in natural and cultural resource management. With members in nearly all 50 U.S. states and numerous countries around the world, the GWS unites a community of Indigenous peoples, resource managers and park staff, researchers, professors, emerging leaders, educators, government agencies, nonprofits and outdoor enthusiasts.

This article draws in part from the work of Nora Mitchell in the Introductory essay to the issue of the George Wright Journal Nature – Culture Journeys: Explorations on Shared Terrain


Culture and Nature: Thoughts on the English Lake District

By Brenda Barrett July 28, 2017

Lake District National Park Credit: Brenda Barrett

Lake District National Park
Credit: Brenda Barrett

At every level conservation practioners labor to understand and balance natural and cultural values at a landscape scale. Globally, this challenge plays out in the push and pull of the World Heritage inscription process.  When in 1972 UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, referred to as the World Heritage Convention, the document recognized the importance of both natural and cultural heritage. However, these values were generally treated in a parallel manner. To be inscribed on the World Heritage list a site must be of Outstanding Universal Value and meet at least one of the ten selection criteria.  of which six are focused on cultural resources and the other four on natural resources. Most sites are nominated under either the cultural or the natural criteria. While sites can be nominated as mixed site by qualifying independently for the cultural and  for the natural criteria, this is not common. To date only 35 sites out of over one thousand World Heritage listings are classified as mixed properties. The fact that two separate organizations, ICOMOS for cultural resources and IUCN for natural resources, are responsible for the development of operational guidelines and technical assistance for proposed World Heritage nominations has further reinforced the bifurcation of the  program. However, recently there has been a surge in interest in viewing sites more holistically motivated in part by the recognition that global issues such as climate change, population shifts and urbanization, and political instability threaten all resources. This has resulted in renewed efforts to bridge the culture- nature divide and seek more universal solutions.

Drystone wall Lake District National Park Credit: Brenda Barrett

Drystone wall Lake District National Park
Credit: Brenda Barrett

The recent (July 2017) inscription by the World Heritage Committee of the English Lake District  highlights some of the challenges and opportunities of integrating cultural and natural values. Located in northwest England, the English Lake District represents the  combined work of nature and human activity, which produced a harmonious landscape in which the mountains are mirrored in the lakes; a region whose valleys were carved by ice age glaciers and then shaped by centuries of agro-pastoral land use; a landscape that has been appreciated from the 18th century onwards by the Picturesque and later Romantic movements, which has been celebrated in paintings, drawings and words. It also has inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful places and triggered early efforts to preserve them for future generations.

This is a celebrated and iconic landscape, but there have been bumps on the road to gaining World Heritage recognition. The English Lake District was first nominated in 1986 as a mixed site proposed under both the cultural and natural criteria. However, in 1987 the World Heritage Committee was not convinced by this approach and decided to leave open its decision on the nomination until it had further clarified the committee’s position regarding the inscription of cultural landscapes. Two years later the state party then submitted the nomination under cultural criteria alone and while the nomination was discussed again at the World Heritage in 1990, there was still no resolution on how to address a site best described as a cultural landscape.

Herdwick Sheep Lake District National Park Credit: Brenda Barrett

Herdwick Sheep Lake District National Park
Credit: Brenda Barrett

The idea of a cultural landscapes category within the World Heritage Convention first began to emerge in the 1980s, as the committee debated the issue of how to recognize landscapes that included both cultural and natural resources.  This debate was spurred in part by the saga of the United Kingdom’s unsuccessful nomination of the Lake District, as a natural and then as a cultural site, and also by uncertainty among many committee members about the relationship between the idea of a lived-in landscape and the concept of  a Mixed Sites. It was fitting that in October 1987 an international expert symposium was convened in the Lake District National Park to examine these issues. The outcome was the Lake District Declaration, the opening lines of which are echoed in the current Lake District nomination, “People in harmonious interaction with nature, have in many parts of the world fashioned landscapes of outstanding value, beauty and interest.”

The Lake District Declaration made many recommendations to improve the management and understanding of protected landscapes. Since that time much progress has been made by the World Heritage Committee in refining the criteria and operational guidelines to better define cultural landscapes as:

47: Cultural landscapes are cultural properties and represent “combined works of nature and of man” designated in Article 1 of the Convention. They are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal.

English Lake District Credit: Brenda Barrett

English Lake District
Credit: Brenda Barrett

Applying these criteria in 2016, the United Kingdom prepared a new nomination for the English Lake District as a cultural landscape based  solely on World Heritage cultural criteria (ii), (v) and (vi).  While IUCN did not participate in the technical evaluation of the Lake District nomination, it did provide comments from a natural resource perspective to the World Heritage Committee. (See IUCN World Heritage Evaluation 2017)   IUCN’s comments noted that quarrying within the boundaries of the nominated property was a matter of concern for its impact on the region’s flora and fauna. Also the IUCN report raised the issue of providing a buffer zone or  additional planning strategies to protect the property from climate change and over development.  Its comments also stated that the English Lake District played an important role in the development of IUCN Category V resources – protected landscape/seascape.  These resources are defined as a protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values

English Lake District  Credit: Brenda Barrett

English Lake District
Credit: Brenda Barrett

The English Lake District is often cited in the literature on protected areas  as the classic example of a Category V landscape and has provided the basis for the application of the concept  in other parts of the world. While the IUCN comments on the recent nomination suggested that this connection should be more strongly emphasized, the comments did not follow on and provide guidance on one of the most pressing culture/nature issues facing the region. The challenge, which is explicitly stated in the nomination,  is how to sustain the 200 or so shepherding families and their flocks of hefted Herdwick sheep that have been instrumental in  creating much of the special character of the landscape and are indispensable to maintaining many of its defining features. The traditional shepherding way of life is threatened by global market forces that impact the viability of farming communities and in the United Kingdom national agricultural plans and subsidies face additional uncertainty in a post Brexit world.  And if this is not enough, shepherding as a way of life in the Lake District is also threatened by some nature conservation policies that promote a different vision for the region: A vision that encourages the re-wilding of the landscape. The most out spoken critics of the traditional shepherding practices describe the Lake District as a “sheep-wrecked landscape”.  The bid for World Heritage designation has been criticized as discouraging other efforts to re-introduce a great variety of plants and wildlife in favor of the status quo.

In considering the nomination, ICOMOS recognized the value of this agro-pastoral landscape. ICOMOS also made specific recommendations to the World Heritage Committee to address the long term survival of this way of life – recommending national farm supports to assist shepherding community in maintaining the heritage values of the landscape as well assistance in preserving the genetic diversity of the herds and their role in providing for the nation’s future food security. In addition the report recommended rebalancing public funding for preserving natural resources in the region to provide support for conserving its cultural landscape.  This is good stuff. But it would have had even more power if IUCN had weighed in using the principles articulated for Category V  Landscapes   including one of the  primary objectives for these places: To maintain a balanced interaction of nature and culture through the protection of landscape and/or seascape and associated traditional management approaches, societies, cultures and spiritual values.

If ICOMOS and IUCN had presented unified recommendations in this matter using both the cultural landscape approach and the principles of Category V landscapes, the Lake District nomination could have provided future guidance on how to balance natural and cultural values in this lived in landscapes.  It could have provided an additional chapter in the English Lake District’s long journey to World Heritage listing.


For the conservation community the successful nomination of the English Lake District is only one more step on the Nature/Culture Journey. At the IUCN sponsored 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii a special track featuring over 50 related sessions brought together the Nature and Cultural community to look at interrelated ecological and cultural topics – often across large landscapes – to better understand the field’s complementary knowledge and capacities. This will be followed by a complementary Culture/Nature Journey at the upcoming Scientific Symposium at the ICOMOS General Assembly meeting in Delhi India in December 2017.

IUCN and ICOMOS have also  launched the Connecting Practice initiative devised and implemented by “to explore, learn and create new methods that are centered on recognizing and supporting the interconnected … character of the natural, cultural and social values of highly significant landscapes and seascapes”. The goal of this practice led approach is to deliver a fully connected approach to considering nature and culture in the context of World Heritage. A number of pilot studies to test this strategy of learning while doing have undertaken in Mongolia, Hungary and South Africa. Read the just released report on Connecting Practice  














Thinking About Heritage Tourism

By Brenda Barrett March 29, 2017

unnamed (5)The World Heritage cities of Florence, with an estimated visitation of 16 million tourists a year, and Venice, with 20 million, are great places to think about 21st century tourism.  Recently, I had the opportunity to visit both of these great cities and to participate in the 2017 Life Beyond Tourism conference sponsored by the Fondazione Romaldo Del Bianco in Florence.  My week long stay offered some insight on how to make tourism a richer experience for all parties.

The Fondazione focuses on heritage tourism, with a particular emphasis on World Heritage sites, as an important opening for intercultural dialogue. It is an approach that uses heritage to advance civic purposes such as sustainable development. With a global market of 1 billion travelers, it is the organization’s hope to draw more of them into a deeper dialogue around the understanding of place and more importantly the people who live in a place. The goal is to implement an approach that goes beyond just consumer driven products or as they characterize it – hit and run tourism.

The Fondazione works to implement this new model sponsoring annual conferences, training and certification programs, and seeking partnership commitments through international resolutions and memorandums. Most promisingly, the organization has a robust program to involve youth and next generation professionals. Putting their philosophy into action, the Fondazione has recently piloted its own booking engine called  Viva Firenze  that retains the profits from hotel bookings in the community. The booking site also allows guests to designate a contribution to the restoration and interpretation of local monuments and historic preservation projects as part of their stay.

unnamed (2)So what did I take away from the March 2017 conference “Smart Travel, Smart Architecture, Heritage and its Enjoyment for Dialogue”?  Well with participants from 48 countries and multiple short presentations in three parallel tracks, there is no easy way to summarize the outcomes. We will need to wait for the papers to be published in e-book form later this year. However, the conference gets high marks for bringing together an international mix of heritage professionals, government officials and representatives of the tourism industry and, despite some communication challenges, the dialogue is underway.

And what did I take away from a week of being a tourist? In a small way, I supported local tourism by booking through the Viva Firenze hotel reservation portal and selected a historic property to benefit from my participation. In both cities, I was stunned by the level of visitation in March – early in what the industry calls the “shoulder season.” As  early indicators predict travel to U.S. cities dropping over concerns about the reception visitors might receive on U.S. shores, I wondered if these welcoming cities may be even more impacted.

unnamed (4)In Venice, I had a glimpse of the new person-to-person entrepreneurial tourism economy. Renting a place from a Venetian couple on Airbnb, we had a chance to share travel stories and benefit from recommendations on where to eat and how to navigate the waterer transport system. Without help I never would have found the large, bright and very well-hidden supermarket.  I also joined a fully booked three-hour neighborhood tour with a newly launched program – Venice Free Walking Tours. The excellent guide offered a mix of history and architecture as well as insight into the challenges of living in a city where the local population is shrinking and everything is based on tourism. While no one would mistake these experiences for living like a local, I was struck by this opportunity and the demand for a more human dimension to tourism.  Heritage tourism still needs conferences and joint resolutions, but on the ground and face to face the dialogue has already begun.




A Nature Culture Journey at the World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i

By Brenda Barrett October 1, 2016

September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

The Hawaiian Islands were created by a chain of volcanic hot spots in the Pacific and long settled by voyageurs who travelled thousands of miles across open water. The interrelationship and adaptation of nature and culture on these islands by early settlement and more recently by the arrival of Europeans and others starting in 1778 present lessons for the future of conservation. So it was fitting that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held its first ever World Conservation Congress  in the United States in Hawai’i. For ten days in September (1-10, 2016) more than 10,000 conservationist leaders from at least 193 countries gathered to advance conservation thinking and strategies around the theme of “Planet at a Crossroads”.  The need to approach conservation at the landscape scale was implicit or explicit in most of the presentations and the importance of looking at nature and cultural in a holistic manner was highlighted at the congress by a track (called a journey) dedicated just to the topic.

IUCN and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites – the cultural heritage counterpart to IUCN) co-sponsored the Nature-Culture Journey   and a companion World Heritage Journey at the conference. This special track helped bring together a diverse community of international conservationists who are members of indigenous community groups, working with World Heritage Sites, large landscape practioners, and representing the traditional ecological knowledge of working landscapes and seascapes.  Featuring over 50 related sessions, the journey examined the growing evidence that natural and cultural heritage are closely interconnected in many landscapes/seascapes and the need to better integrate both disciples for effective conservation outcomes.  Both natural and cultural heritage experts face similar conservation challenges in places with complex interrelated ecological and cultural networksoften across large landscapes – and each brings a body of complementary knowledge and capacities.

The connections and insights gained during the journey underscored the need to work more closely together to advance good conservation practice. This dialogue produced a statement of commitmentsMālama Honua: to care for our island Earth that was signed by the Nature Culture Journey attendees at the Journey’s closing reception.  This statement (currently being translated into French and Spanish) will soon be on-line and available for additional signatures. Follow up discussions are being planned for the 2017 ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi, India. Based on the promising work in Hawai’i, strengthening the connections around a shared interest in nature and culture conservation is an idea that is now on the horizon.

Many thanks to Nora Mitchell one of the lead planners of the Nature Culture Journey for her contribution to this article.










San Antonio Missions: Learning from the World Heritage Experience

By Brenda Barrett February 21, 2016

Mission San Jose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Credit: Dan Stern

Mission San Jose
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Credit: Dan Stern

On October 17, 2015 dignitaries from around the country gathered to celebrate the inscription of the San Antonio Missions as the 23rd World Heritage Site in the Untied States (US) and the first in Texas. The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along an over seven mile stretch of the San Antonio River. Inscribed under Work Heritage Criterion ii the missions are described as “ an example of the interweaving of the cultures of the Spanish and the Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples, illustrated in a variety of elements, including the integration of the indigenous settlements towards the central plaza, the decorative elements of the churches which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous natural designs, and the post-secularization evidence which remains in several of the missions and illustrates the loyalty to the shared values beyond missionary rule. The substantial remains of the water distribution systems are yet another expression of this interchange between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of those involved.”

Behind the well-deserved World Heritage hoopla and the carefully crafted statement of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, there is more than a decade of hard work. As interested in World Heritage recognition grows in the country and around the globe, what can we learn from the hard won experience of the San Antonio Missions? A few lesson for existing and aspiring World Heritage properties are:

Think long term – While the first official step is gaining a spot on the state parties tentative list; this is preceded by many prerequisites. For example n the US cultural properties must first be designated as a National Historic Landmark. All this takes a good deal of time. The San Antonio Missions were officially proposed for the World Heritage Tentative list in a 2006 Federal Register listing.

Seek Out champions –The International Office of the National Park Service (NPS) manages the development of the tentative list and in partnership the State Department determines, which sites will be proffered to the world body ICOMOS for consideration. There is no question that determined champions are critical. In the case of the missions the number of advocates was along one starting with the nationally respected San Antonio Conservation Societ . Also important were the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s  friends groups Los Compadres. Finally, unified political support at the city, county, state and national support was invaluable.

 Gain expert support – Only properties that meet the World Heritage criteria for Outstanding Universal Value can be considered for inscription. The NPS and the park leadership contributed their expertise behind the effort to nominate the missions. They helped convene an experts meeting 2012 to help frame the argument for World Heritage designation. They also hired an professional in preparing the dossier for presentation to the World Heritage Committee.

Anticipate the Management Plan – Just as challenging in many ways as making the case for Outstanding Universal Value is developing a credible management plan for the resource. Particular difficult is to develop a buffer to zone to protect the property. While this might be easier in a discrete historic sites, the missions located in a complex urban and rural with multiple property owners. What made the management plan for the resource credible was all the historic preservation land use controls that had been implemented for the region over the last several decades.

Be prepared to spend money – A World Heritage nomination is a pricey document. While the San Antonio supporter raised several hundred thousand dollars, they estimate that over half a million in in kind services were contributed to the effort. These included a NPS expert staff position In addition, much of lead writer and historian’s time was donated as well a, student interns and untold volunteer hours from the friends group and the Conservation Society helped reduce the costs.

After designation the real work begins! – After a site is listed what is next? In San Antonio a community where tourism is economic development; the promotional opportunities of the designation are very important. However, the community is also using the designation to deepen their connection to the past and the heritage of its diverse citizens. To learn more about ongoing programing on the World Heritage at the missions, visit the excellent San Antonio Missions Word Heritage *Our Heritage web site. 

Many thanks to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park staff Susan Snow who serves as the site’s World Heritage Coordinator and  to Tom Costanos, Volunteer and Partnership Coordinator, both of whom gave generously of their time. All the wise words were from them, any errors are mine!






Jeju Island Korea Hosts International Experts on Cultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett November 20, 2015

The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

Cultural landscapes are often defined as geographic areas of natural and cultural resources with associated historical, cultural and or aesthetic values. One way to sharpen our focus on the components of a landscape is to experience the combination of these resources through a new lens. Jeju Island is a spectacular place to do this. Often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea, Jeju is a volcanic island 56 miles off the coast of the South Korean mainland. Some of the island’s most outstanding natural features have been designated as the country’s only natural world heritage listing, otherwise known as the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (2007).

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls  Jeju Island

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls Jeju Island

The island’s cultural landscapes, although not yet listed, are also very distinctive. For centuries residents have carved fields out of the rocky soil creating thousands of kilometers of still extant stonewalls. The underlying basalt was also used for clusters of farmhouses in villages around the island and for massive fortifications to protect it’s shores. The sea has always been an important part of the region’s life. Today, Jeju has been discovered as a tourist destination for the beaches, the natural wonders, and more recently the rural landscape. Over 10 million tourists visit Jeju a year, which for an island with a population of 600,000, places a lot of stress on the limited resource base. A recent initiative strives to spread the visitors around through the development of walking trails known as Olles.  These well maintained trails direct visitors both along the coast and also off the beaten path to scenic overlooks and into traditional villages and agricultural areas through the use of signs.

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes
Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

This island of scenic beauty, rich heritage and future opportunities, offered a remarkable setting for the November 2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL). A meeting at which the conversation centered around the aesthetics of landscapes, connecting the practice of nature and cultural conservation, and an initiative to advance the understanding and conservation of world rural landscapes . The setting for the gathering could not have been more appropriate–it was held overlooking the water at the Haenyo Museum, a facility dedicated to telling the story of the islands’ famous women divers. The mingling of historical, cultural, and natural resources and memories evoked a powerful sense of place and support for conserving more sites such as this.

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life Jeju Stone Park

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life
Jeju Stone Park

An international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life followed on the committee meeting and attracted over 200 participants. While many were from the Pacific Rim countries, there were also presenters from all over the globe. It was particularly encouraging to see so many excellent papers on cultural landscapes by graduate students and young professionals. The symposium was held at the famous Jeju Stone Park on the slopes of the island’s huge shield volcano, Mount Hallasan. Attendees were offered a number of tours of the key sites on the island including two of the world heritage sites: the Manjanggul Lava Tubes and Seongsan Peak. Both events were organized by the hard work of ICOMOS-Korea with special thanks to Professor Jongsang Sung the head of the Korean ISCCL, the many sponsors he attracted for the event, and of course, his hard working students.

Does this sound like an amazing opportunity to learn more about cultural landscapes? For those with an interest in placing cultural landscapes in an international context consider these upcoming events in 2016: The World Conservation Congress (WCC) meeting, and the conference Capability Brown: perception and response in a global context. The WCC will be meeting in Hawaii in early September 2016 where congress planners will consider a range of sessions that explore the connection between cultural and natural resources. In the same month, on the other side of the globe, ICOMOS UK will hold the capability conference in Bath. The conference celebrates the tercentenary of Capability Brown’s (Lancelot Brown) birth with an opportunity to reflect on his work in an international context.

If you are in the United States, or even if you are not, consider joining US ICOMOS. Support our international mission and stay informed about cultural landscape work at a global scope. This topic will be a focus of the organization’s new initiative for 2016 known as the Cultural Landscape Knowledge Exchange.

Finally, US ICOMOS is launching a National Committee on Cultural Landscapes. We plan to have gatherings at selected upcoming conferences to share information and build a community of practitioners. If you are interested in getting on the list, please email me at or our US ICOMOS ISCCL voting member Nora Mitchell at









World Heritage Committee Match Up in Doha Qatar

By Brenda Barrett July 1, 2014

Credit: Maximilian Dornhecker (Cartographer)

Map of the Earthworks at Poverty Point. Credit: Maximilian Dornhecker (Cartographer)

While not as closely watched as the World Cup in Brazil, for those who care about international heritage the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar (June 15-25, 2014)  was an important event. Among the highlights were the inscriptions of the 1,000th World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Myanmar’s first property on the World Heritage List. During its ten-day meet up, the Committee added a total of 26 new sites the List to bring the number of World Heritage Sites to 1007, in 161 countries.

Representatives from the United States (US) were there to follow the voting on the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. This was country’s first  World Heritage nomination since the US   withdrew the its support for UNESCO. See US World Heritage Program at Risk  Score one for team US.  On June 22, 2014, the nomination for Poverty Point was inscribed as the 1,001st property on the World Heritage List.

(However, see the comment below – it turns out it was a very close game!)

Listed under Criteria iii, the site was determined to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared. The monumental prehistoric earthwork complex is located in Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi Valley. It was part of a trading network 3,000 years ago that stretched hundreds of miles across the North American continent. Poverty Point is a remarkable system of monumental mounds and ridges that were built into the landscape for residential and ceremonial use by a sophisticated society of hunter-fisher-gatherers. It is a masterpiece of engineering from its time as the major political, trading, and ceremonial center of North America.

Not scoring so well was Australia; although the committee deferred for 12 months a decision on whether to place Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Committee expressed concerns over planned coastal developments, including development of ports and liquefied natural gas facilities. It asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by 1 February 2015. In addition the World Heritage Committee rejected the Australian Government ‘s proposal to delist 74,000 of hectares from the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness. It was reported that the current government of Australia lobbied the delegates in Doha unsuccessfully to get more flexibility in the management of these iconic resources.

Scoring points for good deeds was the host state of Qatar. The Prime Minister of Qatar opened the meeting by announcing a donation to the World Heritage Center of $10 million to establish a new fund to assist World Heritage sites affected by conflict or natural disaster. He called on “all of the states in the big World Heritage family” to contribute to this fund. To see some the challenges view Culture under Attack: A Photo Exhibition on Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict.


Our Predictions for Living Landscapes in 2013: How Did We Do?

By Brenda Barrett January 2, 2014

Last December, the Living Landscape Observer ventured a few predictions for the coming year of 2013. So looking backward, how did we do? Let’s answer the question.

1. The large landscape movement will continue to expand. With no big change in course at the national level the landscape scale programs at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management will continue to grow and prosper. The America Great Outdoors initiative will frame the work of the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service will issue guidance on how to “Scale Up” efforts around National Park Units. On the private side, conservation organizations will come together around the new Large Landscape Practitioners Network.

Answer: Yes, we were right on! Sally Jewell the new Secretary of Department of the Interior is just as committed to the large landscape approach as former Secretary Ken Salazar: highlighting large landscape efforts US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, encouraging the National parks to Scale Up and issuing departmental Order 3330 “On Improving Mitigation Policies” in part through landscape scale planning . On the nongovernmental side, a new web site to connect large landscape practitioners is launching in the New Year.

2. National Heritage Areas will be pulled back from the brink. One of the country’s premier large landscape programs, the National Heritage Areas, are in a precarious position. The twelve original areas are facing a loss of funding and most of the newer areas are severely underfunded. We predict the program will be rescued, but remain unsure on whether much needed program legislation will be passed.

Answer: Just barely, but nobody is a winner in this game of chicken. In 2013 the sequester followed by the government shutdown played havoc with all protected area programs. National Heritage Areas were particularly hard hit. For example, the future of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is very problematic. Once a shining example of public private partnership, it is struggling to keep the doors open, more on this story in the coming months.

3. The concept of cultural landscapes will be revitalized. New ideas about cultural landscapes including Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and Historic Urban Landscapes are attracting new and diverse audiences, including the conservation community, regional planners and urban developers. Look for these approaches to proliferate and shake up traditional concepts of cultural significance. Just one example of new ways to think about landscape is what’s happening at the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge.

Answer: On track to succeed, the National Park Service launched a series of initiatives to rethink the meaning of cultural landscapes in the National Register program. For more information on another innovative idea, the Indigenous Cultural Landscape Initiative, see our post on the sessions at the George Wright Conference in March of 2013.

4. The Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor will be in the spotlight. This is a given – after all the Commission has been honored by an invitation to march in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 21, 2013. With a newly completed Management Action Plan, this should be an important year for the preservation of this national treasure. See our post on the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor.

Answer: Congratulations to the Gullah Geechee Corridor for their strong promotional efforts in 2013. These include offering banners and highways signs for the region and advancing awareness of the corridor through gubernatorial proclamations. Despite limited funding and the budget woes of their National Park partner, the corridor is moving forward. The observer covered the float in the Inaugural Parade , the new Gullah Geechee Commission and the challenges of community conservation on Sapelo Island. Despite limited funding and the budget woes of their National Park partner, the corridor is moving forward. The next step, a nationwide search is on for the corridor’s first executive director.

Also in 2013:

Not predicted, but we all should have seen it coming, was the United States’ defunding of UNESCO and the impact this has on the World Heritage program . Just when there is a popular ground swell of interest in World Heritage designation in places as disparate as San Antonio, Texas and southern Ohio, the United States has stepped back. Follow this issue thanks to the work of Preservation Action.

The Living Landscape Observer predicts that there is plenty of unfinished work for 2014. What do you think?



The World Heritage Convention and the National Park Service

By Guest Observer June 28, 2013

Peter Stott wrote the following commentary as the conclusion to a series of three essays on the role of the National Park Service in the World Heritage Convention.  The essays were published in successive issues of the George Wright Forum 28:3 (2011), pp.279-290; 29:1 (2012) , pp.148-175; and 30:1 (2013) pp.18-44. This epilogue provides a strong case for the value of the United State’s (US) participation in the World Heritage Convention. It is reprinted with the permission and support of the George Wright Society.

The World Heritage Convention and the National Park Service

Epilogue: Into the next half-century

As the last of this series of essays comes to an end, it seems fitting to restate the original intention of the United States in proposing the convention. Conservation was the original goal, as first articulated by the convention’s US proponents; identification of sites with outstanding universal value was the means to that end, not the goal. The emphasis on conservation must remain the convention’s true aim and the US implementation of it. Based on the foregoing review of the Park Service’s role in the convention, the writer offers some thoughts on the US role in the convention in the next half century.

The 2011 admission of Palestine as a member state of UNESCO (and a state party to the convention) has triggered two US laws from the 1990s prohibiting the US payment of dues to UNESCO or to the World Heritage Fund. While the non-payment of dues may not affect the ability of the US to vote in the General Assembly, it would limit the effectiveness of any moral leadership the US might try to exercise. The international suggestions below assume that this state of affairs is of no long duration.

View of Yosemite National Park, a world heritage site in the United States. Photo by Dan Stern.

View of Yosemite National Park, a world heritage site in the United States. Photo by Dan Stern.

Concerning the World Heritage Committee: Since its most recent service on the com­mittee ended in 2009, the US has remained an active participant in World Heritage meetings. A fully engaged US delegation can continue to help guide the convention’s development, whether as observer or as a member of the committee. In the absence of a strong chair, or articulate members, it takes very little to prevent the committee from taking a “course of least resistance” in making its decisions, often adopting politically motivated decisions in opposition to advisory body recommendations, its Operational Guidelines, or even its own Rules of Procedure. But as this history has shown, any display of intellectual rigor or institutional memory by a committee member (or in some cases by an observer delegation) is often picked up by other members and can change the direction of discussion. The US and other delegations that care about the conservation goals and the integrity of the convention must be vigilant.

The biennial election of committee members at the General Assembly could be more effectively used to ensure that candidates are focused on conservation rather than on the national self-interest. While the US never announces in advance its voting decisions, it can, with like-minded states, announce that it will only vote for those candidates that publicly pledge to put forward no nominations of sites in their own territories during their mandates (the US itself made this pledge when it ran for election to the committee in 2005). The US could also make it clear that states which pledge to give a role to heritage experts (as required by the convention) would be favored. Both expectations were recommendations of the 2011 audit discussed above.54

World Heritage expert meetings in the United States: Over the years, many countries have sponsored expert meetings to foster exchanges on specific technical subjects. An occasional expert meeting hosted at a relevant US World Heritage site would not only be a significant contribution to the World Heritage community, it could also give US site managers and their staffs a role in, and the experience of, international meetings. Possible topics might include those the US and Canada have already expressed an interest in, at the time of the 2005 Periodic Report: how to recognize the importance of local populations residing within and/or adjacent to natural World Heritage sites; or a discussion of guidelines for evaluating visual impacts on World Heritage properties.

Concerning bilateral partnerships: In creating the Office of International Affairs in 1961, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall explicitly recognized the role that the National Park Service should play in sharing its expertise with other countries. “We must,” he said, invoking the European phrase of the moment, “establish a Common Market of conservation knowledge and endeavor.”55 Nearly a half century later, this commitment was reiterated in the final report of the National Parks Second Century Commission, the blue-ribbon panel commissioned for the upcoming National Park Service centennial in 2016.56 As the National Park Service embarks on its second half-century in international cooperation, it must continue to renew its bilateral relationships, which are mutually beneficial both to NPS and to its resource management partners in other countries.

One of the founding programs in bilateral relations was the International Short Course in the Administration of National Parks and Equivalent Reserves. “That was one tangible element of leadership,” former Assistant NPS Director for Natural Resources Mike Soukup recalled, “that was unmistakably successful. Throughout my career whenever I met with foreign Park people, they would say to me, ‘You need to put that back together. That was so important to my career . .. to my country .. . to the world, that you had that course available and funded’ … That’s the one thing we could do internationally,” Soukup said, “that would restore a healthy leadership position for the Park Service and for the nation, in the eyes of a tremendous amount of people around the world.”57

The second program that should be restarted is the cooperative program with the Peace Corps. For over a quarter of a century, between 1972 and 2000, the National Park Service had an active partnership with the Peace Corps to assist other nations in developing national parks, providing training to Peace Corps volunteers in park planning, management, and interpretation. In an era of disengagement, the program was allowed to expire in 2001. With the support of USAID, it should be renewed.

Concerning US World Heritage sites: The network of World Heritage sites in the US needs to be reinforced. Site managers attending the 1992 Santa Fe meeting have repeatedly stressed how important the meeting was to them, and how beneficial the subsequent meetings. Both Dick Ring, former superintendent of Everglades, and Dave Mihalic, former superintendent of Glacier, recalled the loss of institutional knowledge that was inherent in the movement of site managers around the park system. “The best thing about [the Santa Fe] meeting,” Mihalic said, “was the fact that all the mangers were able to get in one place, including the non-Park Service sites—the Cahokia Mounds, Monticello managers—and not just to understand things all at the same time. But it was a great way to start thinking in a bigger picture, more strategic manner.”58 “It would be enormously valuable,” Ring said, “to see some resources set aside to support the convening of the US World Heritage site managers.” These network activities, Ring added, could also reinforce the international goals of the Park Service: “It would be very easy to make sure that whenever there is a convening of US managers, that there is an invitation extended to the hemisphere or thematically to similar sites around the world to make a focus, and to invite those folks in, and help support bringing them there.”59

Concerning nomination of future World Heritage sites in the United States. Recalling the original goals of the convention, and its emphasis on outstanding universal value and conservation, the US must decide its own course, regardless of the decisions taken by other countries, concerning the composition of the List of World Heritage sites in the United States. The US should seriously consider what a potentially finite number of World Heritage sites in the US would look like. The list of natural World Heritage sites in the US seems well on its way toward fully representing natural biogeographic provinces, but what cultural heritage sites uniquely represent US history and pre-history? (If natural sites represent important biogeographic provinces, what analogous cultural themes should be represented by cultural properties?) Will it simply be a more rarified list of thousands of national historic landmarks? Or does “outstanding universal value” have a more substantive meaning? This is not a process that lends itself to volunteer, grassroots proposals. A rigorous discussion and analysis should identify defining historical themes, and only then examine how those themes might be best represented. The US already has management and legal provisions that set the country apart from the way all others manage World Heritage nominations; policies that adhere to a unified and substantive interpretation of outstanding universal value is a logical extension of those management requirements. But there is no inherent urgency to the inscription of World Heritage sites: a good candidate will always be eligible, whether its nomination comes one year, twenty years, or fifty years from now.


54. Recommendations 11 and 12, “Final Report of the Audit of the Global Strategy and the PACT Initiative,” (2011), UNESCO Working Document WHC-11/18.GA/INF.8.

55. Stewart L. Udall, “Nature Islands for the World,” keynote address to the First World Conference on National Parks, in First World Conference on National Parks, Alexander B. Adams, ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1962), pp. 1-10.

56. National Parks Second Century Commission. Advancing the National Park Idea: Na­tional Parks Second Century Commission Report (Washington, DC: National Parks Con­servation Association, 2009), p. 24.

57. Mike Soukup interview, 27 July 2009.

58. Dave Mihalic interview, 18 February 2010.

59. Dick Ring interview, 10 July 2009.

Peter Stott was formerly (1996-2006) a staff member of the World Heritage Committee’s secretariat, the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO in Paris. Prior to his time at the Centre, between 1992 and 1995, he attended the World Heritage Committee sessions and wrote a nightly e-mail “blog” (before the term existed), as an observer affiliated with ICOMOS, He is currently a preservation planner at the Massachusetts Historical Commission.


UNESCO adds 26 new World Heritage Sites

By Eleanor Mahoney August 15, 2012

UNESCO recently announced the addition of 26 new sites to its world heritage list.

New Inscribed Properties


Let’s Give a Shout Out to World Heritage

By Brenda Barrett June 27, 2012

Mission San Jose in San Antonio TexasIn most countries inscription on the World Heritage list is highly prized. Designation is seen as bringing honor, recognition, and tourists to a nation’s most outstanding historic and scenic sites.  For this reason, many countries vie to increase the numbers of properties that are imprinted with the World Heritage brand.   This has not been the case in the United States – quick – name three US properties on the world heritage list: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Monticello, yes, Mount Vernon actually no. To see a list of the 21 World Heritage sites in the US go here.

But perhaps the American perception of the value of World Heritage designation is changing.  Let me tell you what happened earlier in June at the usually staid US/ICOMOS annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.  US/ICOMOS is one of over 100 National Committees with a formal role in the nomination and protection of World Heritage Sites and as a national committee provides technical advice to UNESCO’s on World Heritage issues.  The purpose of this year’s US/ICOMOS conference was to consider the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention featuring multiple scholarly presentations and behind the scene tours with the curators of the region’s heritage sites.

However, the US/ICOMOS conference dinner in celebration the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention had a different vibe. Keynote speaker, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, brought a Texas crowd to it feet hooting and hollering when he announced his support for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage sites.  While this might have been a little disconcerting to conference attendees and to the other candidates for World Heritage status also attending the meeting, this extra enthusiastic response might be a sign of the rising cachet of World Heritage designation in this country. Read the press release here.

According to a recent article  in the George Wright Forum, from 1960 through its ratification in 1972, the United States played a leadership role in developing the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the “World Heritage Convention”). Today this document has become one of the most widely recognized international environmental agreements in history and has been ratified by almost every nation on the globe. In the United States, however, the World Heritage Convention has come under increasing attack. During the Reagan Administration, the U.S. withdrew its support from UNESCO, the larger entity that oversees World Heritage designations. Congress also passed legislation requiring 100% owner consent to any world heritage listing, which rules out the designation of large cultural landscapes. And right now, the U.S. has again withdrawn financial support to UNESCO because of the organization’s vote to grant membership to Palestine.

Given this history, it is very heartening to see such a ground swell of interest in the idea of World Heritage and in Texas to boot! Supporters of the designation for the San Antonio Missions report that 80% of the local community is in favor of the nomination. The elected officials, the San Antonio River Authority, and most importantly the venerable San Antonio Conservation Society are all on board with idea. The Spanish ICOMOS National Committee also has offered to help with documentation requirements. Okay, so the number of fans for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site wouldn’t fill Long Horn Stadium, but it is a start.