About the event
This day, also known as the International Day for Monuments and Sites, was established by UNESCO in 1983. It aims to raise public awareness about the diversity of the world’s built monuments and heritage sites, their vulnerability and the efforts required to protect them. World Heritage Day is a day to understand how culture and history can be embodied within a place and how we should preserve these places so that we can learn from them.
How to approach it
An important learning outcome for today is that students understand how ideas, history, politics and much more can become associated with things humanity builds. Ask students to think through what places mean a lot to them. Have they visited any monuments? Give some examples of UNESCO Heritage sites in the UK such as the Cornish coal mines, Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall or the Liverpool Docks. Ask them to think about what ideas, what past traditions these places could be associated with.
Two key ideas come out of this. Firstly, heritage sites should be preserved so that we can hope to understand the past and the present better. Discussion of the above should give some good examples of what we can learn from heritage sites. Secondly, sites can become associated with contested ideas, and this conflict can extend to debates about the site's continued existence.
A good example of this is the debate that surrounds the removal of racist statues by protesters during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020. Involve students in a discussion about how we should treat controversial monuments. Do they have too much symbolic power if they are left as they are? Should they be removed entirely or placed in a different context? Don’t feel as if you have to come to a definitive conclusion. What matters is that students understand the social significance of built heritage and that we must work together as a society to preserve heritage inclusively.
Today is a day that celebrates the great old buildings and monuments of the past. But what if a monument was built to celebrate someone who was a bad person? In the UK there have been calls to remove statues of former slave traders and racists. What do you think we should do? Is it important to keep old statues standing so that we can learn from them or should we take them down and place them in museums?