Thursday, November 06, 2014

Annual Meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

The meeting with be held in the Loy Henderson Conference room at the Department of State on 

Friday, December 5, 2014 from 9:30am to 4:30pm

with a break for lunch at 12pm.  The meeting is open to the public so please feel free to share with interested parties. Anyone planning on attending must RSVP’s to in order to facilitate entry into the building.

U.S. Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines is scheduled to speak with the Commission and discuss U.S. engagement with UNESCO along with her priorities.

State Department UNESCO watchers also look forward to discussing UNESCO programs and partnerships continuing to grow in the U.S. such as World Heritage, Creative Cities, the University/UNITWIN Chair Program and the Category II Centers.  

We all are looking forward to the 70th Anniversary of UNESCO and how to best participate as a community.

University World Heritage Programs

UNESCO's World Heritage Center identifies several universities offering World Heritage programs:

  • Cameroon: Ecole de faune de Garoua/Garoua Wildlife School
  • United Republic of Tanzania: Mweka College of African Wildlife Management
Asia and the Pacific
  • Japan: Tsukuba University
  • Australia: Deakin University (Melbourne)
Europe and North America
The University of California, Merced also has a World Heritage Program

Some additional sites were listed in my post in 2013.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New UNESCO Chair at GWU

The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development will soon host a UNESCO Chair for International Education for Development.

The inauguration of the Chair is to be held on Friday, September 19th, with the keynote address by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music Released by Smithsonian Folkways

Originally published between 1961 and 2003 but until now out of print, the UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music is composed of more than 125 albums from around the world. The entire collection, including many previously unreleased recordings, will be published by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in both digital and physical formats. Two albums will be published per week. With recordings from over 70 nations, the UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music offers an impressive diversity of material.  

To access the recordings:

Release of UNESCO “Teaching Respect for All” Educational Guide

On July 17, 2014, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced the successful completion and release of the Teaching Respect for All (TRA) implementation guide, a set of guidelines and materials for educators to integrate into existing curricula to promote tolerance and respect for all regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. This initiative was co-sponsored by the governments of the United States and Brazil and began work in January 2012.

“The U.S. and Brazil are deeply committed to promoting universal human rights by confronting discrimination and violence in all forms” said U.S. Mission to UNESCO Chargé d’Affaires Beth Poisson. “Both of our countries continue to face the legacy of a struggle for civil rights and racial equality. We know that it is critical that we continue to educate future generations on how to achieve tolerance and respect for all people, regardless of color, gender, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, or creed.”

The joint initiative was launched by the United States and Brazil through UNESCO and was announced by President Obama during his visit to Brazil in 2011.  Funded by the United States, this initiative has culminated in the TRA Implementation Guide, a compilation of best practices from around the world that were piloted in diverse environments, including Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, and South Africa. This multilateral, comprehensive approach was important to ensuring the guide can be adapted to states’ varied national and local contexts, policy priorities, and social and cultural backgrounds.

To read the complete Teaching Respect for All Implementation Guidelines, visit

To hear testimonials from policymakers, teachers, and students about the guide, watch this video:

If you would like to join the Teaching Respect for All online platform, visit

Poverty Point, Louisiana World Heritage Site

The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, Louisiana, became the 22nd U.S. site to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.  Inscription is a reflection of the "outstanding universal value" of Poverty Point, which "bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared." 

Poverty Point is an extraordinary prehistoric earthwork complex located in Louisiana's Lower Mississippi Valley.  It was part of an enormous trading network 3,000 years ago that stretched hundreds of miles across the North American continent.  Poverty Point is a remarkable system of monumental mounds and ridges that were built into the landscape for residential and ceremonial use by a sophisticated society of hunter-fisher-gatherers.  It is a masterpiece of engineering from its time as the major political, trading, and ceremonial center of North America and is an important archeological site.  

In addition to the U.S.'s success in inscribing Louisiana's "Poverty Point" was the official recognition of several culturally and historically rich spots. The Incan road system Qhapac Ñan, Pont D'Arc caves in France, the Grand Canal in China, and Erbil Citadel in Iraq are just a few of the sites inscribed for their unique preservation of cultural heritage.
The World Heritage Committee has inscribed 26 official sites during the 38th session held in Doha, Qatar. To see photos of the sites or to learn more about their history, visit: 
Learn more about World Heritage:  

Learn more about Poverty Point:

Friday, August 08, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thoughts on Reading "The Age of Culture" by Paul Schafer

I suppose I most fundamentally think of the world in terms of three elements:

  • People: The seven billion humans, all probably descended from a small band that lived some 200,000 years ago. Evolved from previous manlike species, all people share most of their DNA. We tend to start out pretty similar biologically.
  • The Natural World: If you will, this is the realm of things studied by the natural sciences.
  • The Social World -- the things studied by the social sciences.
I like to think of "culture" in the anthropological sense -- the complete pattern that characterizes the social world of a specific society. (See the defination at the end of this post.) Of course, my tripart view of reality is a product of my culture. Moreover:

  • A person's culture affects his/her body and mind. Thus the brain of someone speaking Japanese is actually wired differently than that of someone speaking English, and the bodies the children of Irish can identify me at a distance as a Yank (and have done so) in spite of the fact that my father was born in Ireland. 
  • So too, we live in landscapes that are to greater or lesser extent artifacts of our cultures.

We think of a person's behavior as determined by nature, nurture and the situation faced. In that construct, one's "nature" is determined by one's genetic heritage, and "nurture" by the way the potential in that nature has been helped to develop in one's youth. Identical twins raised identically in the same household will of course behave differently, say if one lives as a monk in the desert and the other as an artist in a well watered city.

I like the analogous idea that the nature of a culture is determined in part by its heritage of memes. But it is also determined by the way that those memes have been nurtured within the culture, and the environment in which that culture exists.  Thus the meme of farming has been very widely shared among cultures, but farming has developed distinct institutional frameworks in different cutures, is done differently in different cultures, as it is done differently in different climates with different soils and different demands from consumers.

Cultures evolve. Our culture is not like that of our ancestors in the 19th century, and more distant still from those in previous centuries. Just think how language has changed. Moreover, future cultural patterns are contingent on those of today and yesterday. Radio and television technology have swept the world, but programming is culture specific.

Much of culture in implicit. It is around as all the time but as invisible as the air we breath. Consequently efforts to influence the evolution of culture tend to be partial; often unrecognized aspects of culture interfere with efforts to reform political, economic and other institutions. Moreover, the ability to guide cultural evolution seems itself to be an aspect of culture (e. g. Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879 by Noel Perrin).

We tend to be ethnocentric, assuming that other cultures function as ours does, or even that where we recognize cultural differences, our own culture is assumed to be superior (albeit without evidence of that superiority). This is not to say that all culture should be accepted as good and desirable. There are cultures that foster crime and violence, cultures where human rights of  large numbers of people are not respected, and indeed, most cultures have their own Jerimiahs, revealing the sins of their own peoples.

Cultures include the set of values held by people within the culture; these values change as part of cultural change. Only 150 years ago many people in the south of the United States went to war to protect the institution of slavery which they defended as good for the slaves and good for the masters; their values we can hardly fathom today. We tend to be tempocentric, assuming that the values of our time will also be those of other (future times) or that the values of our time are superior to those that will be held in our evolved culture in the future.

The Age of Culture

I am reading The Age of Culture by D. Paul Schafer. The author starts from a recognition that current patterns of international development are marked by major problems. They are not sustainable. Conflict is everywhere and threatens to worsen.  A large portion of the seven billion people living today are living in poverty. The worst aspects of that poverty are sickness  disability, and early death, but lack of choice, lack of power, lack of voice are also to be fought. On the other hand, a tiny fraction of the world's people are hugely wealthy and  rapidly accumulating more wealth. (Schafer perhaps fails to recognize the progress that has been made in improving the lives of the poor, as shown by the degree of success in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.)

He perceives that we need to move toward a new order in which people are enabled to live a good life, rich in development of the body, mind, taste, and -- if you will -- soul, but not demanding of excessive material possessions and with a limited and sustainable environmental footprint. In one of the meanings of the word, Schafer seeks a world in which people everywhere would be cultured.

Schafer lives in Canada and I live in the USA, both multicultural societies. Yet our countries are relatively homogeneous cultural when compared to say India or Nigeria. Schafer points out that in multicultural societies, cultures rub against one another, changing and being changed in the process, and such multiculturalism is itself a culture. As the world globalizes, it is increasingly useful to recognize all 7 billion of us living in a huge global culture.

Cultural Ages

For thousands of years, before history, people lived in relatively small bands as hunter-gatherers. Schafer refers to theirs as a Hunter Culture, and I see similarities across many such cultures. The range over which a band might move would be limited. While they transformed their local environments, as compared with today the Hunter Culture had a limited footprint. Thus, for example, the rate at which other species were becoming extinct was much lower than today, forests still dominated more of the earth and the oceans were relatively untouched.

I think of the 20th century as marking the end of an Age of Imperial Culture. While the Spanish Empire fell earlier, the 20th century saw the fall of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, British, Belgian, Dutch, French, Japanese and Soviet empires. These empires had been built around the advantages that the metropolitan power enjoyed by its early lead in the Industrial Revolutions -- what Jared Diamond termed Guns, Germs and Steel, plus fossil fuels in steam and internal combustion engines, the telegraph and telephone, etc. World War I, World War II and the Cold War contributed to the end of that epoch.

Schafer suggests that we currently live in an "economic age" but that we should strive to transform society so that people in the future may live in an "age of culture." He was trained as an economist and worked as an economist early in his career before moving into arts administration. I was trained as an engineer and worked as an engineer before moving into science administration. Perhaps that is why I tend to think of our current culture as having been importantly formed by centuries of technological innovation. I also think that since mankind has seen the world from space and learned to use computers to better deal with the diversity of ecosystems, our global culture is becoming much more aware of the planet on which we live and the complex ways in which our environment functions. Yet clearly, ours is an age in which governments, corporations and markets are key institutions, and economists play an important role in studying those institutions and helping define societies policies with respect to those institutions.

The current epoch is characterized by a concentration of wealth. Forbes magazine estimates that there are 1645 billionaires in the world today with an aggregate net worth of 6.4 trillion U.S. dollars. This may be compared with estimated total global wealth in 2013 of 241 trillion U,S. dollars. Thus 0.00002 percent of the world's population has 2.65 percent of the world's wealth. On the other hand, according to the World Bank1.22 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day in 2010, and 2.4 billion people lived on less than US $2 a day. Multinational corporations unknown in previous ages, owned by the relatively wealthy and managed by a bureaucratic elite, have largely escaped the control of national governments. Commerce has become global in many commodities.

This is an epoch dependent on fossil fuels, and they are being depleted. The ecological footprint of this cultural epoch is creating global warming, melting ice caps and glaciers, raising sea level and flooding coastal zones, creating mass extinction of other species, destroying forests and top soil, polluting surface water, ground  water and coastal zones, expanding deserts, and generally making the earth less livable for the species.

Maslow's Needs Hierarchy

Source (and license information)

Schafer maintains that mankind should consciously change global culture seeking to achieve an Age of Culture. Here he seems to be using a definition in part similar to this from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a :  enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic trainingb :  acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
I think he and I share a critique of the current epoch that can be explained in terms of the Maslow Needs Hierarchy.  Today a billion people are barely meeting their physiological needs and billions more are not meeting their safety needs, while a small fraction of the world's population is accumulating great wealth, enjoying most of the fruits of an unsustainable use of natural resources.

Since the higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy do not require resource intensive production of goods and services, a shift in societies' processes could focus more on their achievement while diminishing mankind's global ecological footprint. Production of goods and services would be modified to make the use of natural resources sustainable. The new social system would share the wealth and income of the world more evenly, allowing the poor to satisfy physiological and security needs more fully, and to begin to fulfill higher order needs.

Schafer feels that our current culture fails to act with sufficient attention to the whole person, the whole of society, and the whole global environment with which people and society interact. He sees our priorities as biased towards the "economic" -- increase in income and wealth, and not adequately taking into account sustainability nor the higher aspirations of mankind.

In achieving his age of culture, Schafer then proposes a model of development, as shown in the following diagram:

The Cultural Model of Development

He devotes a chapter in the book to "The Cultural Personality", focusing on the characteristics of people who will inhabit his desired Age of Culture. He is especially interested that they have a holistic view, working to develop their potential to the fullest. I very much like this focus. Let us ask what it is in their culture that makes people who they are; what is it in people that makes their culture what it is. Perhaps we call the latter "personality". I note that Orhan Pamuk in his great book Istanbul: Memories and the City suggests that his city has a special feeling shared by its inhabitants, a feeling which has changed with time, and that other cities too have what we might call personality traits shared by their inhabitants. So it seems logical that to move culture in desired directions, people's personalities must change over time in supportive fashion.

D. Paul Schafer in his book is concerned with the extent of specialization in our current culture. On the one hand, I feel that it would be great if people could be less single minded about work and money to spend more time on family, learning about others and improving their minds and spirits. On the other hand, trying to get Mozart to paint or write, or to get Shakespeare to play more music and dance more seems unwise. A good economist, a good engineer, or a good scientist needs thousands of hours of work to learn his/her profession, and needs to practice it to maintain the skill. I think specialization is  here to stay in that sense.

Schafer also devotes a chapter to "The Culturescape: Self-Awareness and Communities". It seems clear that people in the next century or two will live primarily in cities and towns. Indeed, finding ways to make urban living sustainable will be high on any agenda for human welfare. Making towns and cities livable, in the sense of places that not only allow people to fulfill their physiological and safety needs, but increasingly to fulfill higher order needs seems an obvious goal, but one that is clearly going to be difficult to achieve. We need not look back to the horrific cities of Dicken's England or Civil War New York; we can focus on the enormous slums in Africa, Asia and Latin America.


UNESCO was founded in the aftermath of World War II to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. In the terms used above, it was an explicit effort created by the allies to change world culture in such a way that wars would be less frequent and less brutal. Indeed, UNESCO has created a project promoting the culture of peace, and there was an International Year of the Culture of Peace. Federico Mayor, the former Director General of UNESCO (who wrote an introduction to Schafer's book) has on leaving his post at UNESCO created a Foundation for the Culture of Peace.

More fundamentally, the "C" in UNESCO is for Culture. It has used its convening power to bring leaders together from all over the world to discuss culture, it has been a laboratory and clearinghouse for ideas about culture. It has fostered the creation of international agreements about the protection of cultural artifacts and heritage and created programs for the protection of world heritage sites and intangible cultural heritage, as well as the promotion of cultural expression. Importantly, it has sought to promote dialog among cultures to increase mutual understanding and decrease conflict.

Author Schafer's thinking has been significantly influenced by UNESCO (as has my own). Moreover, UNESCO is the logical place for the ideas in this book to be discussed and further developed.


Schafer and I are both native English speakers from North America, of the same age, with somewhat similar life experiences. Our values seem quite similar, yet they may be different in many ways from the values of people in a century or two -- the people who will be living in the age for which Schafer wishes to influence culture. There is an inescapable contradiction in the fact that their future culture will be contingent on the decisions made now with our current value system, but they will have to live in that future with their own values.

The question is most pertinent in Schafer's final chapter, "Culture and Spirituality: Key to Life and Living in the Twenty-First Century". Schafer suggests that he attains spiritual states through the arts, through experience with nature, and through physical exercises. Others, especially devotees to some religions, might find this chapter offensive. Remember that one of the divisions between some of the Reformation Protestant Churches and the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church was just over whether and how music, paintings, and sculpture were to promote religious spirituality. While I find visiting UNESCO's natural World Heritage sites (e.g. Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Everglades) to refresh my spirit, I recognize other people don't share those experiences. Perhaps most importantly, as Michael Brown implies in Who Owns Native Culture?, indigenous people have all too often had their cultural preferences, and even their spiritual beliefs, run over by people from dominant economic and political groups.

Culture is complex and implicit. In my opinion, many development efforts have gone awry having been bitten by cultural memes that had not been recognized or interactions among memes, people and environment that were too complex to predict. As Robbie Burns wrote:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' menGang aft agley,An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,For promis'd joy!
Governments and large organizations in the private and non-profit sectors are key institutions today, and they are responsive to people with wealth and political influence. While participatory democracy is more prevalent today than ever before, people are influenced by the media, educational institutions, political parties and other institutions -- all of which are led by people "with skin in the game". It is not clear how cultural change can be guided to achieve the ends Schafer desires when the change is likely to often be detrimental to the perceived interests of the people with influence.

Final Comment

It is clearly not possible to do justice in a short post such as this to ideas that Paul Schafer has expressed at book length. Indeed,  I am sure that I have not fully digested his thought myself. Read the book for yourself.

I will leave you with a video in which 75 people of Cuban culture together play that quintessential Cuban song, Guantanamera. People proud of their Cuban heritage can differ violently over issues of politics and economics, but they can come together to make music. Perhaps cultural expression is a tool to move toward a culture of peace.

From the Merriam-Webster dicttionary, a definition of culture
a :  the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b :  the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :  the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time
c :  the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
d :  the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

U.S. libraries should make a major donation of books to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a modern effort to recreate the fabled Library of Greco-Roman  Alexandria. In Ptolomaic times it had the largest collection of books in the world. The idea of recreating the library came from the University of Alexandria in 1974, and a competition for the design of the buildings was organized by UNESCO in 1988.

The modern library is trilingual, containing books in Arabic, English and French. In 2010, the library received a generous donation of 500,000 books from the National Library of France, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The gift makes the Bibliotheca Alexandrina the sixth-largest Francophone library in the world.

It would be a wonderful gesture of good will to the people of Egypt for the people of the United States to make a comparable donation of books to the library. It would be especially great to do this now, while the Congress is denying U.S. funding to UNESCO; a donation to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina would show support for UNESCO's mission of building defenses of peace in the minds of men.

While English language books would seem to be the obvious counterpart to the gift from the French, there might well be collections of books in Arabic in this country that would be welcomed.

Gifts of books to the library should be carefully coordinated with the its staff. It is costly for a library to organize, store and catalog new accessions, and any library will want to select its collection. Ideally organizations such as the Library of Congress or university libraries might make contributions. Perhaps some organization such as the American Library Association or the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO might assume leadership in such an effort.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Monument Men led to UNESCO's Culture Program

The movie described in the trailer and a book (The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel) describe the efforts made by an American led Allies team to protect art treasures during World War II. The men involve risked their lives (and two died in the effort) to keep world heritage safe during combat. The effort continued to recovering the artistic treasures that had been appropriated by the Axis forces as spoils of war, or that had been confiscated as what they considered "degenerate art".

In a radical departure from the practice of other victors in other wars, the western Allies after World War II chose to return the works of art that they had managed to rescue to their countries of origin.

Of course, after the War the western Allies led in the creation of UNESCO, which had among its early functions helping the museum community in Europe to rebuild and reorganize. UNESCO quickly established international conventions to protect cultural heritage threatened by war, to prevent the international trafficking in stolen cultural heritage, and to protect World Heritage.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Secretary Jewell Announces Nomination of San Antonio Missions as World Heritage Site

The Alamo: Red lines show original size, on photo of current location
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the United States is nominating the San Antonio Missions, consisting of most of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park as well as the Alamo, for inclusion on the World Heritage List, which recognizes the most significant cultural and natural sites on the planet.  

“World Heritage Sites represent an incredible opportunity for the United States to tell the world the whole story of America and the remarkable diversity of our people and beauty of our land,” Jewell said. “The San Antonio Missions represents a vital part of our nation’s Latino heritage and the contributions of Latinos to the building of our country.”

Jewell credited former Secretary Ken Salazar, who visited San Antonio Missions in July 2012 to announce the department’s intention to move forward with the nomination, for playing a key role in making it possible.

Read more of the press release.