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Heritage and Values: Keys of Articulation in the Framework of the World Heritage Convention, Paris, June 2006

International Co-operation has taken decades to accept texts including notions such as “recognition” or “perception” in relation to processes of cultural determination by communities (local, peasant, of interest, aboriginal, indigenous, of origin, ......) in the framework of the preservation of Cultural Heritage. It was a requirement as of the Conference at Nara (Japan, 1994) for each cultural work to be contemplated and evaluated according to criteria which characterised the cultural context of meaning of the work in question. Ten years on, the Yamato Declaration moved forward in its prerogatives with the demand for an integrated approach to safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage. This demand reconsiders the notion of authenticity by way of transmission, dynamic: only with evolution and change is there provision for continuity for the contexts of meaning whereby cultural assets are preserved and recognised in terms of their social value.

This sequence of developments had its effects in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. Since 1992, the category of Cultural Landscape has become the necessary space for the inclusion of an articulation of local and universal values, and where excellence referred to a lifestyle which, in traditional contexts, provided a continuity in man’s ancestral relation with the earth.

The Preamble to the World Heritage Convention refers to concepts like outstanding interest and universal value of assets to be included on the World Heritage List; various derivations and applications of the notion have appeared in each of the Operational Guidelines texts, whose content has been modified over time. Paragraph 49 of the Operational Guidelines for the application of the World Heritage Convention (February 2005) confirms that the concept of outstanding universal value implies that sites so classified have such an extraordinary cultural and/or natural significance that they transcend national frontiers and take on significance for the present and future generations of the whole of mankind. This makes permanent protection of this heritage of capital importance for the international community as a whole.

The concept of outstanding Universal Value as it is described in the Preamble of the World Heritage Convention is a value ascribed to a World Heritage property, thus defining the characteristics or heritage values of the said property as being Universal to humanity. This infers that the properties’ values are of such high stature that they transcend borders and become the property of all humankind.

The idea of such a value in today’s world however leads us to pose multiple questions relating to how such a question can be measured and how such a concept holds against the threat that globalization, many argue, poses for uniqueness in today’s world. From the 15-16 June 2006 philosophers, academics, sociologists, linguistics and semiotics experts met in Paris to discuss heritage and values in relation to the World Heritage Convention.