Art Conservation 120:
Global Tourism, Climate Change and World Heritage Preservation
Fall 2011, Fall 2015, Fall 2018
"Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice
there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors."
– Henry James, 1882
International tourism has increased fortyfold over the past 60 years, straining limited resources and causing damage at some popular museums, archaeological sites and world heritage cities. Climate change has also begun to impact world heritage sites, raising concerns in places such as Paris, Venice and Petra. This course reviews interdisciplinary efforts to prevent future loss of world cultural heritage through new approaches to cultural sustainability, as well as the reactivation of some ancient technologies.
Course Description and Rationale
Venice, with 60,000 natives, receives 20 million visitors per year, while Washington’s National Mall attracts 25 million. This course evaluates the impact of climate change and tourism on world heritage sites, such as Paris, Venice and Petra, while investigating the wide range of creative, interdisciplinary approaches to mitigating these impacts. Cultural World Heritage sites have universal value and represent an important human inheritance to be passed on to future generations. As such, they are an excellent “canary in the coal mine” for measuring how well we are able to adapt to and mitigate negative impacts while conserving hundreds of places that have been designated the highest priority.
International tourism has risen from 25 million visitors in 1950 to over 935 million in 2010, resulting in enormous environmental impacts on popular museums, archaeological sites and world heritage cities.
Simultaneously, the impact of climate change on UNESCO World Heritage sites is increasing, with floods and deluges not seen for hundreds of years causing cultural resource managers to rethink their approaches to dealing with these trends. In the UK, 500-year-old National Trust homes are having their downspouts enlarged to accommodate unprecedentedly intense rain events.
World Heritage is often in the News: The destruction of sites in Syria has resulted in “the worst cultural heritage emergency since World War II” with volunteers playing an important role in digital preservation. The recent Nepal earthquake “reduces several world heritage sites to rubble.” “What is the world's vulnerable most city?” and “Sea Level Rise Threatens World’s Cultural Treasures.” “Flooding in World Heritage town of Regensburg after river bursts banks” What lessons can we learn to prevent future damage?
The Grand Tour began the tradition of an educational rite of passage, flourishing from 1660 to 1840, as a way for educated youths to experience the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. Today, cultural heritage tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry. Increasing number of visitors who are seeking experiences of continuity and diversity in human culture, history, and archaeology–often through interaction with local communities, re-enactments, and participation through citizen science or volunteering at an archaeological dig or museum.
In response to this onslaught of tourists and climate disruption, art conservation professionals, scientists, engineers, architects, cultural resource managers, and others have worked together to create interdisciplinary solutions to help mitigate some of these impacts at world heritage sites. These preservation technologies range from sealed display cases containing argon gas to protect the US Constitution (borrowed from the food industry), to reestablishing the tree canopy in tropical archaeological sites to minimize the spread of damaging lichen on stone carvings, to the largest public works project in Italian history: the multi-billion dollar MOSE project, designed to protect Venice from flooding.
In this course questions of philosophy and physics, ethics and earthquakes, aesthetics and authenticity come together in contexts such as the conservation of Queen Nefertari’s tomb in Egypt, where materials science and environmental analysis shows the 3000-year-old wall paintings are at risk from the exhalations of tourists and rare flash floods. Based on the success of the Lascaux II replica in France, replicas in Egypt–such as Tut’s tomb–are expected to reduce the impact on the Valleys of the Kings and Queens near Luxor. Another example is the site of Petra in Jordan, where the ancient water management system has been reactivated to help avoid hazardous flash floods. The Getty Museum in Brentwood overlooks one of the busiest freeways in the United States. Special filtration technology is used to prevent damage to the Getty collections from vehicle-generated ozone and particulates. The process of technology transfer and the revitalization of ancient technologies often play a joint role in the long-term management of impacts from tourism and climate change.
This interdisciplinary course also ties issues of environmental sustainability and global climate change to world heritage preservation, infrastructure and tourism. Examples include the effects of hurricanes and tourism on coastal cities such as New Orleans, the impact of ongoing drought, floods and salinization in Australia, and the effects of air pollution from tourist buses on art in India and China. Art conservation is rapidly evolving from its roots as an art and craft to a hybrid field, with interdisciplinary efforts playing a key role in addressing the preservation of sites with “outstanding universal value.” http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/
Learning outcomes/objectives for this course:
Upon completing this course, participants will have a basic understanding of the stresses on cultural resources stemming from tourism and climate change; how technology can be used to mitigate damage; understand the interdisciplinary connections between the different members of a conservation team; and possess a knowledge of the processes of technology transfer and the application of preservation technologies to world heritage sites.