UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies ranked highly by UNESCO for intangible cultural heritage

Posted on September 13, 2019

In a recent survey conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the University of Pretoria’s (UP), Department of Historical and Heritage Studies ranked among the top tertiary education institutions in southern Africa for its continued promotion of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) on a local, national, continental and international level. This is through its various undergraduate and postgraduate degree offerings in the specialisation of Heritage and Cultural Tourism.

The survey is the result of a UNESCO convention held in 2003 in Paris to safeguard ICH. A decision was taken to emphasise the “invaluable role of the intangible cultural heritage as a factor in bringing human beings closer together and ensuring exchange and understanding among them”. The convention defined ICH as the “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage”.

Professor Karen Harris, Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, said she was delighted that the work being done by the department in terms of both teaching and research was acknowledged by UNESCO. With the Heritage and Cultural Tourism degree courses only having been introduced in 1998 it was most encouraging to receive this recognition.

The investigation – conducted in 2018 across a number of sub-Saharan countries that included Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa – was primarily aimed at investigating the current state of ICH educational programmes in southern Africa and to identify the opportunities and interests in developing these ICH-related programmes within the region. Additionally, the report also explored the feasibility of establishing a network of universities on the continent to deepen the promotion and safeguarding of ICH in academia, while simultaneously investigating the need for more interdisciplinary research to be undertaken in the fields of heritage and culture in years to come.

The report also concludes that UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies is well-situated to form part of this network for the promotion and safeguarding of ICH in a South African and sub-Saharan context considering its growing number of graduates from the above-noted degrees, as well as the Department’s continued emphasis on promoting heritage studies and interdisciplinary research within the rapidly growing heritage and cultural tourism domain.  Later this Heritage Month, Prof Harris and colleague CR Botha will be attending the international ATLAS conference in Spain on Tourism transformation: Integrating Culture and Nature: Holistic Heritage Management Education and Transforming Heritage Tourism. They will be presenting two papers, one of which focuses specifically on intangible heritage: Insourcing the Indigenous without Outsourcing the Story Teller  – An African Solution.

Professor Vasu Reddy, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Humanities said: “This ranking in my view is a much broader and more representative league table than current ranking systems. It is a prestigious and commendable accolade for UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies. UNESCO is an agency within the United Nations system that is almost 73 years old, representing the diversity of nations in this global world. The recognition accorded to our UP Department in Humanities confirms the quality and impact of our teaching, research and community service recognised by a global multilateral agency.”

Prof Reddy also indicated that the work of the Department, namely to “build capacity and high level expertise” in Heritage Studies, is represented by significant growth in student numbers and research in the discipline at UP. “The high level and professional work of this department also contributes significantly to realising the goals of the National Development Plan (and also Agenda 2063) in respect of creating a non-sexist and non-racial society because the discovery of humankind involves major humanist projects which link our heritage and our future as a society,” he said.

- Author CR Botha

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