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A free course in World Heritage

I am a fan of the Open University concept, where you can study a random subject at a high level whenever and from where it suits you. I even finished a Bachelor’s degree in Art History a few years ago at the Dutch Open University. One of the subjects in that curriculum was a disappointing introduction to Heritage management (I wrote a post about it in 2015). Last week I noticed that the UK’s Open University has a free course on my favourite subject of all: World Heritage. The course material gives an overview of what UNESCO’s World Heritage is about. Also it provides 5 case studies on specific WHS: New Lanark, Bath, Edinburgh, Lake District and Tarragona.

The easy to use course homepage

The course is equivalent to 10 hours of study. I clicked through it in some 45 minutes – the introductions about World Heritage, UNESCO, its procedures etc. were of course already well-known by me. I was more interested in the case studies.

New Lanark is presented as “an enormous success and [it] has gained many plaudits and awards for the long-term commitment of its trust and management to restoration”. After the factory closed in 1968, restoration already started 5 years later with the establishment of the New Lanark Conservation Trust. It went on a long track to inscription: it was brought forward first in 1986 and got inscribed in 2001. Looking back, “Revitalisation has had a major impact on the local community and region”. Although by some a nomination of industrial heritage like this is seen as “a response to misplaced nostalgia for working-class life in communities undergoing rapid change ..”.

There’s an interesting 14 minute audio file included about the preparation of the Lake District bid. Although already well-known in the UK, global recognition was still wanted. It had twice failed in the late 1980s, but now they were trying again and knew they had to deliver a special story. It was ‘saved’ by the establishment of the cultural landscape category in 1992, where it fits in better. ICOMOS UK even claims that the Lake District failures were instrumental in recognizing cultural landscapes as a separate category. What the proposal team also learned is that beauty in itself isn’t enough, you have to point at something under threat: here they found it with the disappearing hill farms. Representatives in the travel business were skeptical of getting additional red tape to deal with after inscription, but also hoped that the tourists were to stay a few days longer and be more interested in the culture and environment.

The relocation of Abu Simbel, where the WH story began

The information delivered in the course is mostly based on facts (I found no errors, which are so common in discussions about World Heritage). Only some subjective interpretation shines through. I was perplexed for example over this conclusion: “World Heritage has its own vocabulary, using the discourse of international diplomacy. Much of its documentation, originating in French, takes on a mid-Atlantic flavour in English, something readily appreciated from the numerous websites dedicated to the subject.” The last sentence alone makes me wonder about 3 things:

  1. There’s a hint there that documentation in French is somehow ‘odd’. And I sense some bewilderment too, maybe because WH is a rare area where there’s no UK/US dominance?
  2. “takes on a mid-Atlantic flavour in English” – what does mid-Atlantic mean in this sentence, native English speakers can you help me out here? I guess it’s not about the Azores… Google directs me to the Mid-Atlantic states—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. Huh?
  3. And those “numerous websites” – do they include ours? I am surely aware that with the WH comes a whole vocabulary which we all use in our reviews and forum posts, I even added a glossary.

Edinburgh, one of the case studies

The course is at its most informative when the UK sites and policies are discussed. For example how the UK selection process works (mostly decentralized among its constituent countries England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). However “It is unclear how the list of sites in overseas territories was arrived at”.  Unfortunately the content of the course all stays quite superficial. But it still is worth an hour or so of your time as a WH aficionado.

Els - 8 December 2019

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Solibagant 8 December 2019

Am on road at the moment with small keyboard and big fingers so can't write much. But "Mid Atlantic as used in UK has absolutely nothing to do with Mid Atlantic states as in US. It refers to the use of an English language which adopts some "Americanisms" in words, style and, if spoken, in accent. Churchill said that umUS/UK were 2 countries divided by 1 language and a native English speaker us very aware of differences. "Managerial speak" will be one area and may be what the WHS article was referring to. Of course with contemporary media etc "English English" is less and less commonly adopted!

Els Slots 8 December 2019

Thanks Alexander and Jay. From across the ocean (UK-side) meltwaterfalls reports that it sounds like the accent used by Frasier in the eponymous comedy series.

Alexander Parsons 8 December 2019

'Mid-Atlantic' or 'transatlantic' is basically a pretentious way of speaking that was popular amongst the rich decades ago.


Jay T 8 December 2019

As a mid-Atlantic resident in the US, I doubt he’s referring directly to any of our states, but rather to the style of international English employed at the UN and in Washington.

I’m not sure it’s an exact parallel, but I’m reminded of how newscasters in the US train to speak in a midwestern accent, which is most commonly understood by Americans.


Zoë Sheng Chinese-Canadian in NZ - 03-Dec-19


I think Sucre gets a bit of a bad rep because it's "another colonial town" and basically it is. I still liked the town because it grows on you. It's very laid back, there are many foreigners coming here to learn Spanish so you always run into friendly people and start to see familiar faces. When I made Sucre my base for a few days to explore not only the town itself but also the surrounding area I also took advantage to take some Spanish lessons at my hostel.

There was also a big banner that they are planning some celebrations for the 20th anniversary - that's still 2 years to go - but it shows how they really care about the title of being a UNESCO town.

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Serra da Capivara

Michael Ayers USA - 30-Nov-19

Serra da Capivara

Visit in November 2019 

Sites that have been inscribed primarily to protect important areas containing ancient Rock Art are among my favorite types of sites to visit and it had been a fairly long time since I had been to a site from that category. Consequently, I was definitely looking forward to my visit to Serra da Capivara National Park. Though I only had one full day available for this visit, I found the park to be beautiful and fascinating, and felt that my time there was well spent.

As the previous review mentioned, the park is a long way from anywhere else that most travelers might be when visiting Brazil, so getting to the area will generally be time consuming. The transport infrastructure is in reasonably good condition coming from any direction, but, while the small cities and towns that one will pass through along the way are friendly, and contain most of the important services, they are usually not the most attractive examples to be found in Brazil. One of the nicer places is São Raimundo Nonato, the main service center for the park, located just to its south

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Vila Viçosa, Renaissance ducal town (T)

Argo France - 30-Nov-19

Vila Viçosa, Renaissance ducal town (T)

Vila Vicosa was a pleasant stop on our way from Lisbon airport to Elvas WHS. It is a pretty and small town with white houses as you can find dozens in Portugal, nothing special from that point of view. The main point of interest is the Renaissance ducal Palace, which large front side (more than one hundred meters long) stretches on one side of a wide, cobbled square, also bordered by churches and more white buildings.

Vila Vicosa was the hometown of the Dukes of Braganza, one of the most powerful and influential family in Portugal, and who eventually became the last reigning family of the country when Joao IV became king of Portugal. Almost 150 years before they took the throne, the ducal palace was already a clear manifesto of their power, built by Duke Jaime I at the very beginning of 16th century, as he wanted to get out of the old, medieval castle, which had been the home of his fathers. Front side of the palace has clear Renaissance style, while most of the rooms inside have been changed and refurbished over the centuries: mainly the global layout and the ceiling in few rooms survived. The visit is by guided tour only (for about 50 minutes), and in Portuguese

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Frontiers of the Roman Empire (Germany) (T)

Matejicek Czechia - 29-Nov-19

From the German locations included in this huge nomination, I have seen only remainings of CASTRA REGINA in Regensburg (already WHS by itself) as several parts of its fortification are still visible "in situ" (I have seen maybe two- or three-times during my occasional visits of Regensburg). The best known and at the same time the most spectacular part is PORTA PREATORIA, which is quite nice and impressive structure takeing into account how old this gate is. I had also oportunity to see the excavations below Niedermunster church located quite close to the gate, and parts of walls of late Roman barracks or residential villa are presented for organized tours in the underground of the church, but these are not very spectacular.

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Singapore Botanic Gardens

Jakob Frenzel Germany - 14-Nov-19

Singapore Botanic Gardens

September 2012 - I decided to fly to New Zealand to visit my sister, who was there for one year. A stopover in Chiangi, gave me just enough time to put my feet on Asian Ground for the first time and to see a bit of Singapore.

It has some interesting modern architecture, food courts with panasian specialities, a Chinatown, little India and colonial history. But the only whs worthy place is probably the botanic garden. The airline allowed me to have a free roundtour on the Island. So i took the bus to the garden. Except the Orchidee garden, the entrance is even for free.

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