Heritage management in the Mediterranean. An international perspective from our intern Clara Marshall

We have conducted an interview with our intern, Clara Marshall. Clara, a British citizen brought up in Italy, is on board with an internship since mid-April to assist our Culture Unit in support of communication activities. Clara aspires to work in the field of cultural heritage management and we hope her internship within the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), will translate into a concrete place for her passions to converge and her future profession to take shape.

Growing up, Clara followed her parents as their jobs took them around the world, from Turkey to India and South-East Asia. For years, she remained convinced that she would do something that would take her on adventures to far off places: journalism and, when she became interested in ancient history, archaeology. Although these professions still hold a considerable appeal for her, she has since focused her attention slightly closer to home, and eventually aims to work in policy making and research in the field of cultural heritage management in Italy and the Mediterranean.

Tell us about yourself: what is your background, and why did you want to intern at UNESCO?

Two main factors have conspired to influence my academic (and, later, professional) choices.  On the one hand, growing up in Rome and studying in Italian schools left me with an enduring love of social, cultural and material history that eventually led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Classics at Cambridge; on the other, the unshakeable feeling of being a foreign national in my own country encouraged a fascination with modern languages and international politics that influenced my choice of Master’s – International Relations at Sussex University. This combination has led me to explore areas ranging from late Roman history and archaeology (a hot summer excavation in the Tiber Valley did not entirely succeed in crushing my enthusiasm for the Roman world!) to Middle Eastern politics, passing through Spanish, Arabic, and even a brief attempt at Romanian.

Why did you want to intern at UNESCO and what do you think you are gaining from your experience so far?

As a sideline to my studies, while still trying to zoom in on exactly where and what it was I wanted to be, I worked for several small NGOs, in Rome and Jerusalem. What I learned from this experience is that, in a context where five or six people are trying to keep the ship afloat, decision-making often involves a formidable clash of wills the outcome of which alternates between extremely fruitful and extremely ineffective, and in which as a temporary member of the team I was not always able or willing to participate. This time, I was keen to try working at the opposite end of the spectrum – for the sake of comparison – in an environment where decisions are governed as much by international guidelines and legal restrictions as by personal initiative. 

That said, my interest in UNESCO itself runs deeper. With its involvement in cultural heritage and its role in international governance and diplomacy, it ties together several strands that have so far been running parallel in my life. My internship in public information and communication with the Culture Unit allows me to take what I know – writing, analysis, language skills – and apply it within an unfamiliar framework, a process which has already taught me a great deal, amongst other things, about working in a professional environment and following specific guidelines. In short, I have come to appreciate the truly complex (and extremely interesting) applications of the otherwise abstract term ‘communication’, in the context of such a large and wide-ranging organization where coordination is everything and transparency is paramount. Above all, however, the internship has allowed me to work with topics I find truly fascinating, something that I know can never be taken for granted.

What will happen after the internship? How will it influence your choices?

I have observed, first hand and as part of my studies, that heritage and the historical narratives surrounding it have for centuries played an important role in terms of social construction and national identity, with the power to unite and divide. I have also seen how easily they can be forgotten and left to crumble. It is an area I am profoundly interested in would like to explore further. My hope is that this vague premise will lead to a range of professional experiences in a number of different countries.

If my experiences to date have given me a clear sense of the field in which I would like to work, my internship at UNESCO has helped me to clarify my ideas still further, by showing me the many tasks and roles this sector encompasses, and allowing me to explore how I can best employ my skills and talents while pursuing those areas of the sector that most interest and inspire me. This is largely thanks to my colleagues, who have gone out of their way to advise me in my work and include me in office procedure and activities, making me feel like a valued member of their team.