Accepted paper:

Changing conceptions of authenticity in the evolution of UNESCO World Heritage


Christoph Brumann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle)

Paper short abstract:

Authenticity criteria have increasingly been relaxed and relativised in the evolution of UNESCO World Heritage, sometimes contradicting the WH Convention’s insistence on universal value. Controversies over recent inscriptions on the WH List show that intangible values are taken to replace the material fabric as locus of authenticity.

Paper long abstract:

From modest beginnings, the World Heritage Convention of 1972 has grown into UNESCO's flagship programme and the world's most prominent initiative for heritage preservation. Inscriptions on its prestigious list can have enormous effects on tourist streams and national self-esteem, and nominations are accompanied by intensive lobbying activities. The convention started out from the premises of the Venice Charter of 1964 that emphasized the original substance of monuments, tightly controlling any kind of reconstruction. The rebuilt town centre of Warsaw was made a WH site right at the start, however, and discussion about the nomination of the Hôryûji temple buildings, Japan - wooden structures that had repeatedly been dismantled and rebuilt over the centuries - led to the Nara Document of 1994. This document widens the criteria of authenticity far beyond material, form, and design and explicitly asks for cultural relativism in authenticity judgments, without however dropping the requirement of 'outstanding universal value' (OUV) for inscription. Since then, debates over authenticity and the sister concept of integrity have come up repeatedly, for example over the rebuilt and subsequently inscribed bridge of Mostar or the destroyed and subsequently inscribed stone Buddhas of Bamiyan, and it appears that triumphant political narratives of peace and reconciliation often provide the authenticity that the material fabric lacks. The paper will unravel the background conditions to these changes and ask what they hold in store for future developments in global heritage preservation.

panel P06
Appropriating authenticity: anthropological and archaeological enquiries on a shared theme