In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Norms for Cultural Preservation and Cooperation

  • Introduction
  • Historical Background
  • National, Regional, and International Influences
  • International Instruments for Cultural Preservation and Cooperation
  • Representation and Misrepresentation in International Cooperation
  • International Cooperation and the Rule of Experts

International Relations International Norms for Cultural Preservation and Cooperation
Trinidad Rico
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0248


The last thirty years have seen significant shifts in the way in which cultural preservation and cooperation have been conceptualized academically and in practice. While cultural preservation takes the shape of a broad scope of initiatives and debates, this article focuses on the most institutionalized efforts under the established framework of cultural heritage preservation. The norms that guide the preservation and study of cultural heritage in the trajectory of these initiatives have been defined and approached by various fields and institutions in accordance with the changing “fashions” of cultural heritage preservation. In addition, international discourses and instruments that once seemed to have universal validity have been increasingly challenged by regional and local voices, resulting in a diversification of norms that resist internationalization. Therefore, in large part, the history of norms can be charted through the work of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), but the formalization of a critical heritage field in the late 1980s sees the emergence of a position of resistance through more historically and politically situated analyses of the “heritage boom,” accompanied by dedicated studies of cultural heritage in non-European contexts—Thailand, Australia, Japan, to name a few—that support a diversification of ideas of heritage and its preservation against the principles of a “universal” heritage. It is important to note that this article is drawing exclusively from Anglophone literature, which has largely dominated the processes of internationalization of cultural heritage preservation and cooperation. However, the trajectory toward internationalization in heritage preservation that was followed by non-English-speaking nations is diverse and not necessarily reflected in this article. This critique is covered here in the last section.

Historical Background

The history of internationalization of cultural norms has been written and revised from two main perspectives: a view that described in some detail the internationalization of cultural heritage preservation told through the examination of the work of key organizations and their primary sources, such as Cameron and Rossler 2013 and Valderrama 1995, and a view from critical heritage studies that aims to situate this rise within historical turns, geopolitical processes, diplomacies, and forms of expertise, discussed by Lowenthal 1998, Harrison 2013, and Meskell 2018. While some of these historiographic contributions center on the growth and popularization of a model for cultural preservation and cooperation and its influences, such as discussions in Hall 2011, Duedahl 2016 considers the effects of the international regime on different territories.

  • Cameron, Christina, and Mechtild Rossler. Many Voices, One Vision: The Early Years of the World Heritage Convention. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    Describes the emergence and implementation of the World Heritage Convention, from 1972 to 2000, with an emphasis on the voices of the “pioneers” that gave shape to this initiative in its formative years.

  • Duedahl, Poul. A History of UNESCO: Global Actions and Impacts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-58120-4

    A global history of UNESCO from 1945 to 2015 that considers the impact of the “mental engineering” carried out by the organization through soft power initiatives, centering on routes rather than roots of the work of the organization. This anthology considers cultural heritage within broader initiatives in the field of culture and education and traces the impact of UNESCO in diverse territories.

  • Hall, Melanie, ed. Towards World Heritage: International Origins of the Preservation Movement, 1870–1930. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2011.

    Explores the context for the emergence of a concern with “international heritage” during the important formative period from 1870 to 1930, prior to the emergence of UNESCO, in relation to international relations and diplomacies centered on European and North American territories.

  • Harrison, Rodney. Heritage: Critical Approaches. London: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199602001.013.021

    A detailed and critical historical overview of the emergence and formalization of concerns with cultural preservation in the context of international instruments and politics.

  • Lowenthal, David. The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511523809

    This book critically revisits the rise of the heritage phenomenon in the context of changing uses of history and “the past” for contemporary purposes.

  • Meskell, Lynn. A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    Traces the rise of internationalism through the emergence of UNESCO, with attention paid to the construction of an international community dedicated to peaceful co-existence and conservation.

  • Valderrama, Fernando. A History of UNESCO. Paris: UNESCO, 1995.

    Covers the formative years of the institution of UNESCO since 1946 until the early 1990s, with consideration given to the initiatives that predate UNESCO that provided the principles and forms of expertise used to construct the UNESCO model.

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