By Timothy P. Whalen
In the conservation of cultural heritage, certain principles endure. Among them is the precept that knowing what you have is critical to keeping it. A thorough knowledge of the nature and extent of one's cultural heritage resources is the first step in the preservation of those resources. Of course the methods for doing this inevitably change, as new (and one hopes better) technologies are developed for recording and documenting cultural heritage and for managing that information. But what does not change is the principle that the more you know about what you have, the better positioned you are to protect and care for it—which makes cultural heritage inventories one of the most critical tools for cultural heritage management.
In this edition of Conservation Perspectives, we consider this proposition. The articles not only examine the importance of inventories in a variety of circumstances—from urban development to armed conflict to natural disasters —but also discuss a major undertaking by the GCI and World Monuments Fund (WMF) to develop Arches, a new information system for the international heritage field specifically designed to create and manage heritage inventories. In the feature article, members of the GCI-WMF team overseeing the system's development—David Myers, Yiannis Avramides, and Alison Dalgity—describe this open source geospatial web application, available at no cost, which incorporates internationally adopted inventory standards and enhances the ability of organizations to preserve their heritage resources.
The accompanying articles make it clear that heritage inventories are essential for cultural resources protection. David Logan and Richard Mackay explain how heritage inventories in Australia have provided legal protection for heritage resources and guidance about permissible or desirable change, thus supporting good decision making. In his article on armed conflict, Peter Stone draws on his own experience to make the case for more national and international efforts to produce national heritage lists in a standard, internationally sanctioned format, well before potential conflicts become real threats. Deidre McCarthy describes how efforts to protect heritage resources in the aftermath of recent natural disasters—in particular, Hurricane Katrina—underscore the significant role heritage inventories can play in the preparation for and response to such disasters. And in our newsletter roundtable, Gillian Grayson, Janet Hansen, and Daniele Pini draw upon their diverse experience, ranging from the United States to Europe to the Middle East, to discuss the challenges of creating heritage inventories and to provide insights into their value. I hope that this edition of Conservation Perspectives will advance the development and use of these crucial tools in the preservation of the cultural heritage.