Newcastle University has been invited by UNESCO to join its prestigious universities network and establish the first ever UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace.
New worldwide partnerships
Through the accolade – awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the full support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO – Newcastle University will deliver training and capacity building activities and build new partnerships worldwide to mitigate the destruction of cultural property during conflict and strengthen the use of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as tools for peace.
Professor Peter Stone OBE, Head of the School of Arts and Cultures at Newcastle University, will be appointed as the UNESCO Chairholder.
One of the UK’s leading specialists in protecting cultural property during armed conflict, Professor Stone has acted as a specialist advisor to the UK government regarding the identification and protection of the cultural heritage in Iraq. He is also Chair of the UK Committee for the Blue Shield; the cultural heritage equivalent of the Red Cross.
Professor Peter Stone said: “In any conflict, there are not just the human casualties but also casualties in terms of the cultural property and heritage of a society. The destruction of cultural property, and associated trade in illicit antiquities, strikes at the identity, cohesion, well-being, and economic potential of affected communities and undermines opportunities for intercultural dialogue. It robs the world of its past.
“Through the UNESCO Chair, Newcastle University will work with governments, the armed forces, the heritage sector and the public to foster a better understanding of the value of cultural property.
“I’m extremely grateful for the support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO in establishing this Chair. There is an almost unprecedented urgency to mitigate the destruction of cultural property, and we hope this Chair will make a significant contribution to what is becoming a defining issue for the current generation.”
Developing a global culture of peace
Professor Stone will work with the military to build on the implementation of new policies and training which have, since 2003, already encouraged many armed forces to take the protection of cultural property during conflict seriously as part of their duties while on the ground in conflict situations. He will also work with colleagues at UNESCO World Heritage sites worldwide to investigate the potential use of drawing upon these sites to develop a global culture of peace and collective responsibility for the protection of these historic sites, which belong to all peoples of the world.
The objectives of Newcastle’s UNESCO Chair connect closely with the current focus of the UN’s heritage body which earlier this year launched, UNITE4HERITAGE. This campaign is looking to harness its global standards and legal mechanisms – like the World Heritage Convention – to coordinate the work of armed forces, Interpol, the World Customs Organization, museums, leading auction houses and national governments, to block the black market trade in cultural artefacts in order to protect cultural sites. UNESCO works around the world to harness the power of culture to reconcile people and bring them together.
Strengthening our shared heritage
The UK National Commission for UNESCO, which is a hub between UNESCO, UK government and UK Civil Society, supported Professor Stone through the application process. The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Culture Director, Helen Maclagan said of the announcement:
“I am delighted that Newcastle University will join the prestigious UK and global network of UNESCO Chairs – eminent research institutions that, within their different fields and academic focus, are all working towards achieving UNESCO’s overall goal of building peace and sustainable development in the minds of men and women.
“Our hope is that, as a member of the dynamic global universities network, and working under the powerful UNESCO brand, Professor Stone’s critical work in the protection of our shared, World Heritage will be enhanced and strengthened”.
Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey said: “The protection of cultural property during conflict is of huge importance and I welcome Professor Stone and Newcastle University to the role of the first UNESCO Chair to protect cultural heritage at risk of destruction.
“While the UK’s priority will continue to be the human cost of these horrific conflicts, I am in no doubt that the UK must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction. The loss of a country’s heritage threatens its very identity. The knowledge and expertise of the experts in our cultural institutions makes us uniquely qualified to help. I believe that the UK therefore has a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas and recent events have confirmed the urgency of this.”
Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University added: “This prestigious honour recognises the world-leading expertise we have at Newcastle University in cultural property protection. Professor Stone’s work over the last decade has had a major impact in encouraging the military, governments and other policy makers to take cultural property protection more seriously. With the benefit of his knowledge and expert guidance, this UNESCO Chair will play a critical role in protecting the world’s cultural heritage for future generations.”
Watch an interview with Professor Stone here.