Safeguarding the world's cultural heritage

Many organisations working to preserve global cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible – have been using online media to support their efforts.

On October 6, the World Monument Fund (WMF) published the 2010 world monument watch list plotting the dozens of villages, buildings, bridges and monuments at risk of destruction on an interactive Google map. The WMF in New York is one of many organizations, like Global Heritage Fund, World Heritage Center (part of UNESCO), financing projects to preserve world cultural heritage sites.

Becoming a heritage site

While a nomination for cultural heritage site or monument can be a useful step on the way to acquiring funds for preservation, an additional benefit can be a general rise in tourism to the sites in question. Moreover, the nomination often stimulates national or local pride.

Singaporean university lecturer Tan Wee Cheng created a Facebook group, asking for Singapore sites to be included on the World Heritage list:

As at the end of Dec 08, there are 878 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 145 countries but none in Singapore. Are there really no sites in Singapore worthy of such an honour? I have visited a few hundred WHS round the world and am convinced that certain sites in Singapore deserve to be listed, for they do posses what UNESCO calls sites with “outstanding universal value”.

Conflicts can also help influence decisions. After the violent clashes between ethnic Uighurs (Uyghurs) and Chinese Hans in Kashgar, the ancient Silk Road city, a petition had been submitted online to claim World Heritage Status for the city, threatened to be demolished.

Online video claiming World Heritage Status for Kashgar

Man is a threat

Humans themselves are almost always the source of the dangers, as this article written by Dr. Anjana Khatwa, education coordinator for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage, points out:

Threats to World Heritage Sites come in many forms: armed conflict and war, wanton destruction, natural disasters, pollution, poaching, unplanned construction and uncontrolled tourism.

This idea is shared by WMF President Bonnie Burnham in her address for the launch of the 2008 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites:

On this list, man is indeed the real ennemy. But, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it, by taking our responsibility as caretakers of the world’s cultural heritage seriously. So today we are sounding the alarm, using the World Monuments Watch List to demonstrate, through the vivid examples of beloved places around the world, the importance of working together to meet these challenges and join forces to protect our world’s shared architectural heritage.

Innovating answers

Since 2003, UNESCO has also been working to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage like languages, dances, and handcraft techniques. New technologies and the Internet could be a necessary breakthrough in preventing some cultural and intangible heritage from vanishing.

CyArk, a non-profit entity, is working on the “500 Challenge”. This project intends to make a digital model of cultural heritage sites by laser scanning, to create an open archive of the data.

Rapa Nui Cyark project

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) also has a project to preserve and protect oral and intangible heritage, Creative Heritage Project: IP Guidelines for Documenting, Recording and Digitizing Intangible Cultural Heritage:

New technologies provide communities with fresh opportunities to document and digitize expressions of their traditional cultures, meeting the strong desire of communities to preserve, promote and pass on their cultural heritage to succeeding generations.

This is a credo shared by Malian blogger Boukary Konate, in talking about African folk tales [in Bambara] on his personal blog, Fasokan:

Bi bi in na, an bɛɛ bɛ k’a kɔlɔsi sisan k’o ko ninnu bɛ ka ban dɔɔni dɔɔni. N kɛlen kɔ ka n yɛrɛ ɲininkan, ye jaabi min sɔrɔ, o de ye ka u sɛbɛen an ka kanw na, k’u bayɛlɛma kan wɛrɛw la, k’u bila ɛntɛrinɛti kan. O b’a to u tɛ tunun wa u na lakodɔn mɔgɔ wɛrɛw fɛ.

We all observe their disappearance, and after thinking about it a lot, i found the solution: to write them down in our language, to translate them in another languages, then keep them on the Internet. It will prevent them from disappearing and allow other people to learn about them.

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