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The Advancement of Learning and Culture The Advancement of Learning and Culture
by Rene Wadlow
2014-05-18 12:36:51
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18 May has been designated by UNESCO as the International Day of Museums to highlight the role that museums play in preserving beauty, culture, and history. Museums come in all sizes and are often related to institutions of learning and libraries. Increasingly, churches and centers of worship have taken on the character of museums as people visit them for their artistic value even if they do not share the faith of those who built them.

museum01_400Museums are important agents of intellectual growth and of cultural understanding. They are part of the common heritage of humanity, and thus require special protection in times of armed conflict. Many were horrified at the looting of the National Museum of Baghdad when some of the oldest objects of civilization were stolen or destroyed. Fortunately many items were later found and restored, but the American forces had provided inadequate protection at a time when wide-spread looting was predicted and, in fact, was going on.

Conserving a cultural heritage is always difficult. Weak institutional capabilities, lack of appropriate resources and isolation of many culturally essential sites are compounded by a lack of awareness of the value of cultural heritage conservation. On the other hand, the dynamism of local initiatives and community solidarity systems are impressive assets. These forces should be enlisted, enlarged, and empowered to preserve and protect a heritage. Involving people in cultural heritage conservation both increases the efficiency of cultural heritage conservation and raises awareness of the importance of the past for people facing rapid changes in their environment and values.

Knowledge and understanding of a people's past can help current inhabitants to develop and sustain identity and to appreciate the value of their own culture and heritage. This knowledge and understanding enriches their lives and enables them to manage contemporary problems more successfully. It is important to retain the best of traditional self-reliance and skills of rural life and economics as people adapt to change.

Traditional systems of knowledge are rarely written down; they are implicit, continued by practice and example, rarely codified or even articulated by the spoken word. They continue to exist as long as they are useful, as long as they are not supplanted by new techniques. They are far too easily lost. Thus is is the objects that come into being through these systems of knowledge that ultimately become critically important.

Thus, museums must become key institutions at the local level . They should function as a place of learning. The objects that bear witness to systems of knowledge must be accessible to those who would visit and learn from them. Culture must be seen in its entirety: how women and men live in the world, how they use it, preserve and enjoy it for a better life. Museums allow objects to speak, to bear witness to past experiences and future possibilities and thus to reflect on how things are and how things might otherwise be.

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens


       
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