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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Evidence under the Heritage Bridge

Dr Andreas Pantazatos (Durham University)


Surprisingly, the critical study of evidence is missing in a domain – cultural heritage promotion and heritage management – where countries’ economic fortunes and community sustainability are at stake. A concern with evidence, regardless of its field of deployment, should ask “who set up the parameters of the question”, “what are the data”, “how was the information acquired”, “is it credible/free of bias,” “who uses it”, “what are the limits of its application” and “do we have enough evidence to draw plausible conclusions and make reasonable policy recommendations such that the intended effect will be achieved.” Evidence is simply that which supports a conclusion. But in that “simplicity” evidence is laden with corollary issues, for evidence implicates a legal structure, ethical considerations, ethnographic sensibility, sound methodology, and a keen awareness of political context and economic realities at multiple scales. Evidence should be a topic of major interest in heritage studies and heritage practice for at the highest level – in the United Nations and its organ, UNESCO – cultural heritage is argued to be in the public interest.

Surprisingly, the critical study of evidence is missing in a domain – cultural heritage promotion and heritage management – where countries’ economic fortunes and community sustainability are at stake. A concern with evidence, regardless of its field of deployment, should ask “who set up the parameters of the question”, “what are the data”, “how was the information acquired”, “is it credible/free of bias,” “who uses it”, “what are the limits of its application” and “do we have enough evidence to draw plausible conclusions and make reasonable policy recommendations such that the intended effect will be achieved.” Evidence is simply that which supports a conclusion. But in that “simplicity” evidence is laden with corollary issues, for evidence implicates a legal structure, ethical considerations, ethnographic sensibility, sound methodology, and a keen awareness of political context and economic realities at multiple scales. Evidence should be a topic of major interest in heritage studies and heritage practice for at the highest level – in the United Nations and its organ, UNESCO – cultural heritage is argued to be in the public interest.

This panel will explore how to best address what kind of evidence is required to inform those who manage World Heritage sites so as to meet obligations to protect the past for future generations and realise a shared sense of belonging for all relevant stakeholders. The 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage defines these obligations, establishing a mandate to foster global solidarity through wise stewardship of these unique sites.

The focus of this panel will be two-fold. It examines the evidence – or lack thereof – for the widespread contention by UNESCO that its World Heritage system has brought positive results and beneficial change to its participants. And will debate the kinds of methodology best suited for a new period of research that will gather evidence about how World Heritage sites effectively engage with their stakeholders, especially those who are living in the immediate locale of World Heritage sites. A particular concern is the lack of evidence about the roles and voices of those who too often remain invisible yet should be heard in the World Heritage process.

The contributors will compare the evidence from a cross-section of major World Heritage sites with our own Durham World Heritage site, which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016. Head panelist, Professor Helaine Silverman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), will present the ethnographic methodology she has employed for her long-term research in the World Heritage historic district of Cuzco, Peru, and she will draw a comparison between World Heritage sites in the developing and developed worlds. Dr Sophia Labadi (University of Kent) will present the strengths and weaknesses of the strategy she used to build a strong evidence basis for the role of Outstanding Universal Value in wise management of World Heritage sites. Ms Jane Gibson (Durham World Heritage Site Coordinator) will explore how evidence shapes the management planning of Durham World Heritage Site. The panel is moderated by Dr Andreas Pantazatos.