How Do We Preserve the World’s Smaller Cultural Heritage Sites? Notes from the “Unlisted” Conference

With large stone busts looking on in the Palazzo Mattei in Rome, Italy, a diverse panel of experts convened last weekend to discuss how to preserve the world’s smaller, lesser-known cultural heritage sites. The conference’s title, “Unlisted,” was indicative of these places that have not been given official world heritage status by UNESCO, yet are still essential to preserve.

David Nelson Gimbel, founder and Director of Archaeos, Inc., in particular stressed the importance of preserving cultural diversity: “Even if we don’t like a culture, we need to preserve it because in the end, it makes us all better,” he said. How can we preserve these sites? What is the best way to go about it? Other speakers, from fields as diverse as business, law, academia, and technology, addressed the issue with a variety of ideas and anecdotes.

“It’s all in the packaging,” said Darius Arya, Executive Director of the American Institute for Roman Culture, emphasizing the need for presenting information through the preferred medium of this generation: social media. “I want to make cultural heritage cool,” Arya said. “If you can tell a good story, you can engage the public through the same imagery, video, and articles that the media and alarmed experts and their organizations are using,” he added.

Ben Lee, Classics Professor at Oberlin College, and Joshua Neckes, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Group Commerce, Inc., presented their ideas for how to bring together e-commerce firms—experts in disseminating culture—with experts of culture and cultural history. “Cultural knowledge and heritage brings legitimacy and meaning to our lives,” they said, “and it’s to a business’s advantage to invest in it.” Both businesses and cultural heritage can benefit from such a relationship and Lee and Neckes emphasized the importance of leveraging dominant media to bring about this enriching arrangement.

Another highlight of the conference was the presentation of Stefano Baia Curioni of Bocconi University in Milan. His frustration with the way the less-frequented cultural heritage sites in Italy are managed was palpable: “the asymmetrical distribution of visitors and revenues has concentrated the investments in the development of auxiliary services on important cultural centers, leaving most archaeological sites a marginal role in this process,” he said. How to fix it? “There must be multiple stakeholders in a site,” he emphasized. In other words, the local community and government and visitors all have to care, an idea that we here at SPI fully embrace.

The endings to the stories of many of these “unlisted” archaeological sites have yet to be written. Yet, the story itself, the medium through which it is told, and who must be connected and engaged in it were all points of emphasis throughout the conference. And emphasized they must be for such sites to be preserved for future generations to study and enjoy.

"Unlisted" Conference presenters in the Palazzo Mattei.

Thank you to Darius Arya for assembling such a variety of perspectives and hosting a fruitful discussion!


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