UNESCO's Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative

News (October 2009): The latest issue of UNESCO's Astronomy and World Heritage Magazine is available on: http://whc.unesco.org/en/review/54/

A Call for Involvement

The following letter was addressed to the members of Commission 41 (History of Astronomy):

Dear C41 member,

The Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative (AWHI), approved by UNESCO in 2005, provides an opportunity that may never be repeated to ensure the recognition, promotion, protection and preservation of places of exceptional cultural value and significance relating to astronomy.

Basically, through the AWHI, "relationship to astronomy" has become a new criterion under which cultural properties may be proposed by member states for nomination to the World Heritage List (WHL). The AWHI represents a first move in a broader agenda within UNESCO aiming to promote nominations that recognize and celebrate achievements in science. At the same time, the AWHI relates not only to the history of scientific astronomy (rational enquiry) but generally to all cultural perceptions of the sky.

The IAU has recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO to ensure that the two organisations work together to progress the AWHI and hence to ensure that this unique opportunity to preserve key aspects of our astronomical heritage is not missed. There are also clear points of connection with the Starlight Preserves Initiative.

The main problem at the outset is that no clear criteria exist by which member states can judge what might constitute an appropriate nomination. The most urgent actions for the IAU, in coordination with UNESCO and other bodies who help to judge nomination applications, are to develop appropriate criteria (which would form the basis of guidelines for member states) and to prepare a corresponding list of the most exceptional astronomical properties world-wide that are not currently World Heritage properties but might well be put forward for nomination.

As a first step, a group of members of C41 has produced a preliminary list of the most exceptional astronomical properties, which has been submitted to UNESCO for further discussion. A copy of the list is available from the IAU secretariat. The next stage is to work both on the criteria/guidelines and to improve the list in an iterative process. We fully recognise the need to achieve a well-balanced list that takes into account the broadest possible range of opinions and expertise, covering all aspects of astronomical history and heritage and the entire world.

For this reason, we are now calling for C41 members to come forward who are prepared to be actively involved. If so, please submit your name and area(s) of expertise to:

the C41 secretary Rajesh Kochhar <rkochhar2000@yahoo.com >,

with a copy to the IAU Secretariat < iau@iap.fr >,

and write in the subject line: C41-WG-AWH.

The IAU EC has suggested that we should set up an Astronomy and World Heritage Working Group, which would bear the main responsibility for carrying these activities forward. We would also like to know if you would be willing to serve on this WG.

Could you please let us have your responses by the end of June if at all possible, or in any case no later than July 15.

Yours truly,

Clive Ruggles

C41 Vice-President


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