In 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded as an intergovernmental agency aimed at fostering peace, humanitarianism, and intercultural understanding. Its mission stemmed from a European organization called the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation, founded by such prominent figures as Henri Bergson, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Mann. Often critiqued for its inherent Eurocentrism, UNESCO and its World Heritage program today remain embedded within modernist principles of "progress" and "development" and subscribe to the liberal principles of diplomacy and mutual tolerance. However, its mission to combat conflict, destruction, and intolerance, while noble and much needed, increasingly falls short as recent, much-publicized conflicts over World Heritage sites in Cambodia, Israel, Palestine, Mali, Crimea, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria have underlined.
Lynn Meskell is professor in the Department of Anthropology.