Global universities unite for ‘critical moment’ to advance cultural heritage preservation

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(Photo by Michael Marsland / Yale University)

Presidents, vice chancellors, and faculty experts from around the world lent their broad support for the preservation of cultural heritage as arguably one of the grand challenges of the contemporary world at the eighth Global Colloquium of University Presidents on April 12-13.

The event, hosted by Yale, was convened on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to focus on the theme of “Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Strategies,” which has been identified as a key issue of importance to societies and communities worldwide — and that also is ranked highly on UNESCO’s agenda.

Ban noted in a speech opening the colloquium that the United Nations has been working to make the protection of cultural heritage a main facet of both its peace-building missions in areas of conflict and its humanitarian emergency response. Last year, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2199, which bans the illicit trade of antiquities and art from Iraq and Syria. “This was a rare show of unity from the Security Council, which has been in a deadlock over Syrian issues,” he said. “An attack on cultural heritage in one part of the world is an attack on us all, on all humanity. … “Now we must build on these major steps to advance the cause of peace.”

Welcoming participants to a plenary session and working sessions on April 13, Yale President Peter Salovey said this was a critical moment for exploration of the elements that comprise the discipline of cultural heritage preservation. “It was an honor for Yale, along with the U.N., to convene such a distinguished set of thought leaders who bring so many perspectives to the discussion. Thanks to you, we now have the opportunity to build and collaborate on research and education programs that will make a difference in human society,” he said.

The plenary session included reports from working groups focused on the themes of culture in crisis, sustainable conservation, cultural diversity, data and information, student engagement, and the role of universities in providing education and training in cultural heritage preservation. In order to build on existing collaborations between faculty and scholars from participating countries, a network planning group will bring forth a number of proposals to expands interdisciplinary research between participating countries, facilitate more effective sharing and access to information and data, and explore opportunities for cultural learning experiences for students, including in local heritage efforts within the communities in which universities are based.

Echoing remarks in an earlier address by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, about the need to “introduce history and the protection of heritage values in education,” delegates of the plenary session underscored the contribution of universities in working toward a recognizable discipline for cultural heritage preservation.

“Our universities provide that legitimacy. We will carry on the shared responsibility to take this work on,” said Anupam Sah, chief conservation consultant at the Mumbai Museum.

Thanking participants from all 28 institutions that took part in the colloquium, Stefan Simon, director of Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, stressed the need to “capitalize on the momentum” provided by the colloquium. “We need to develop a partnership to inspire our young people to engage in the preservation of cultural heritage, to educate the next generation to better protect the future of our past,” he said.

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