30.06.2012 - ODG

Durham University: Director-General Receives Academic Honors at World Heritage Site

© UNESCO/Cynthia Guttman - The Director-General after receiving her Honorary Doctor of Letters, with the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Chris Higgins (right) and the pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robin Coningham (left).

Recognizing the contribution of the Director-General and UNESCO “to preserving both Durham and the world’s outstanding cultural and natural heritage,” Durham University conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters on Irina Bokova on June 29, 2012.

The ceremony was held in the medieval splendor of Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage Site since 1986, as part of the graduation of over 200 students from the faculties of arts and humanities, and social science and health, led by the Chancellor, opera singer Sir Thomas Allen, and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Higgins. Close to 3,000 students graduated between 26 and 29 June from this University, ranked among the United Kingdom’s top three.

“In taking forward her ambitious agenda for UNESCO, Ms Bokova has identified the preservation and promotion of culture and heritage as critical for fostering cooperation, dialogue and understanding between different countries, societies and faiths…,” said Professor Robin Coningham, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University, drawing attention to the significance of the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.  “She has developed the powerful theme that ‘heritage heals’, contending that cultural heritage is a source of recovery and a catalyst for sustainable development. These are themes which researchers at the University strong support.”

Heritage and scholarship are entwined at Durham University: the 11th Century Castle, once the Palace of the Prince Bishops, is the oldest university building in the world, while the annual student congregation ceremonies are held in the Cathedral, where the remains of one of the most accomplished scholars of his age, the 7th-century Venerable Bede reside, along with the shrine of Saint Cuthbert.

The Director-General toured the Cathedral and its surrounding buildings, including the historic Cosin’s Library, the Prior’s lodging, the cloisters and monks’ dormitories, testifying to the site’s monastic past.

The links between heritage, identity and peace were explored by the Director-General in a meeting with academic experts involved in the University’s Global Security Institute for Defence, Development and Diplomacy. The Institute offers masters degrees and professional development courses that study human security through a holistic lens, spanning law, education, heritage, local culture and diplomacy. The Director-General praised this approach and welcomed the interest in developing synergies with UNESCO, setting the challenge of protecting and preserving identities and cultures against the backdrop of globalization, highlighting the role of peace education, preventive measures and the Organization’s work in post-conflict, post-disaster contexts.

During a lecture held in the Castle’s Senate Suite,  the Director-General  described UNESCO’s contribution to peace and sustainability in the 21st century, from supporting legal frameworks for freedom of expression, rebuilding education systems and advancing gender equality to promoting culture as a dynamic force that enlarges opportunities, renews and heals societies. “In our fragmented, globalized and interconnected world, we all have the responsibility to think about how to manage our incredible diversity, to protect and preserve identities and culture while reaching out to others,” said the Director-General.

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