The MA in World Heritage Studies at the Ironbridge Centre for Heritage is about the policies, practices and politics of protecting heritage sites within the framework of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention. Based on our extensive international network and experience, we provide theoretical and practical insights in international heritage governance and its links to tourism, local communities and sustainability.

World Heritage students on the 2019 visit to the UNESCO headquarters

One way in which we make use of our connections with international experts is in the context of an annual study trip to Paris. This year, we visited the headquarters of UNESCO to get a unique behind-the-scenes impression of its work and we took a closer look at two very different World Heritage properties.

Our trip to Paris started with a walk through a World Heritage property: Paris, the Banks of the Seine. This site consists of several Parisian landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Cathedral of the Notre Dame and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. During our walk, we reflected on the interpretation of the heritage and observed the behaviour of tourists, which connects directly to the coursework of the modules Heritage Interpretation and Tourism Management at World Heritage Sites.

“Going as a study visit meant that we observed other tourists and their behaviours at heritage sites across the city, while being tourists ourselves. Looking at tourists critically means that we are able to gain a better understanding of how people interact with heritage” (Elizabeth, student MA World Heritage, 2018-19)

After sundown we enjoyed some French intangible cultural heritage with a meal and for some a glass of wine in a traditional French restaurant.

 “Seeing my classmates thinking about whether or not they want to try the famous Escargots was an interesting moment. Eating snails is rather common in France but the obvious cultural difference made me think about the Gastronomic meal of the French which is on the Intangible World Heritage List.” (Cassandra, student MA World Heritage, 2018-19)

On the second day, we had the unique opportunity to visit the headquarters of UNESCO. We were welcomed by staff of the Culture section, who presented their work on World Heritage and the Sustainable Tourism Program, marine heritage, intangible cultural heritage, and UNESCO’s emergency preparedness and response procedures when heritage is under threat.

“The lectures were wide-ranging and gave us insights into the topics that UNESCO staff manage on a daily basis. Having to opportunity to go to UNESCO and talking to the staff there made the work that they do real.” (Elizabeth, student MA World Heritage, 2018-19)

After the fascinating presentations we had lunch in the cafeteria of UNESCO and were able to have a look around the modernist building, its art collection and Japanese garden. Later in the afternoon we walked together to the Eiffel Tower to have a closer look at this impressive structure.

On the third day we visited the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne for a fascinating lecture about the World Heritage nomination of Le Havre by Professor Maria Gravari-Barbas, UNESCO Chair in Tourism, Culture and Development. Moreover, we had the opportunity to meet Chloé Campo de Montauzon of the Association of World Heritage Properties in France, who told us about how this association brings together the managers of all the World Heritage properties in France to share experiences.

Subsequently, we engaged in a workshop with the students of the Master in Management and Tourist Valorization of Heritage sites of La Sorbonne. The students worked in groups to make suggestions for the nomination of categories of World Heritage properties that remain underrepresented on the World Heritage List. Engaging in discussion with peers in an international context provided the students with new perspectives on what kind of heritage sites are considered worthy of international recognition.

In the afternoon, we visited another World Heritage site: The Palace and Parks of Versailles. Staff at this property explained to us the ongoing process of their development of the Management Plan. Although Versailles is inscribed as a cultural property, some of the key challenges the management faces relate to its natural aspects: namely, the maintenance of the large garden. We also received a tour through the Palace to experience how the site is presented to visitors.

The Study Trip to Paris was a versatile learning experience that enabled encounters with multiple sides of the spectrum of World Heritage management: From the headquarters of UNESCO, where international policies and programmes of heritage protection are developed, to the Palace and Parks of Versailles, where we got an insight in the issues facing the day to day management of one World Heritage property. As always, we are grateful for the generosity of the many international experts who spent time engaging with our students, and we look forward to repeating this trip in the coming years, ensuring that this tradition of the MA World Heritage of the Ironbridge Institute stays alive.