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Student-Curated Exhibition, Heritage in Our Hands: UNESCO50 Years Later Opens at the Penn Museum this Spring

February 17, 2022

Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director


PHILADELPHIA—Curated by three undergraduate University of Pennsylvania students from across the tri-state region, Heritage in Our Hands: UNESCO 50 Years Later, is an interactive exhibition that introduces multiple perspectives on cultural preservation since the 1972 World Heritage Convention. It opens Saturday, March 26, 2022 at the Penn Museum.

Through nine objects on display in the Idea Lounge, a space on the Penn Museum’s Upper Level designated for student-curated shows, Heritage in Our Hands: UNESCO 50 Years Later uncovers the complex histories behind five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the ways in which various approaches to heritage—including ever-changing definitions—can complement or compete with one another. It also highlights how stakeholders have a notable impact on traditions, preservation, and tourism.

Philadelphia’s own Independence Hall, added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979, marks an easily recognizable entry point into the exhibition. From there, Heritage in Our Hands guides Museum visitors through site case studies, such as:

  • Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, it is represented through a cylinder seal from Ur in 2700 BCE, drawing attention to risks to the area’s biodiversity and natural resources that have been essential to local peoples’ ways of life for thousands of years.
  • Ban Chiang, Thailand: For centuries, craftspeople have produced metals and ceramics, but today, shared local interests foster tourism and community-informed preservation efforts. A UNESCO Site since 1992, it is symbolized in the exhibition by a ceramic crucible and bronze bangles.
  • Qhapaq Ñan, the Inka Road: This vast transportation system is characterized through a llama offering vessel and Spondylus shell from Peru. Throughout history, Inka officials, traders, messengers, and armies used these roads, but today, everyone uses them—from local herders to backpacking tourists.
  • Liverpool, England: Stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2021, a synthetic leather football represents how communities redefine their own heritage, as the local government approved the construction of a new stadium for the Everton Football Club, despite disagreements with UNESCO.

“These incredibly diverse sites illustrate some of the many ways meaning, value, or interest may become increasingly complex or shift over time,” explains Cindy Srnka, a junior Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations major from Jackson, New Jersey, and one of the three student curators.

For the last seven months, Srnka; Ashley Fuchs, a senior double-major in Classical Studies and Political Science from Stony Brook, New York; and Jack Clark, a senior double-major in Classical Studies and Anthropology, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, have worked with Penn Museum staff to develop Heritage in Our Hands.

“Through our exhibition, we hope that museum visitors critically engage with UNESCO and consider how different conceptions of heritage are relevant to their own lives and communities,” Fuchs adds.

In the exhibition, the student curators point out that although the current UNESCO model was helpful in the last 50 years, today it represents an inflexible design rooted in stringent criteria.

”The UNESCO model is not a unanimous success. This is evident in the conflicting sites outlined in the exhibition,” says Clark. “Local communities are not always afforded a seat at the table, which can devalue and take away a sense of shared-ownership.”

Providing an interactive element with the goal of getting people to start thinking about their own heritage, the exhibition asks visitors to share a “heritage site” or a place that is meaningful to them—whether it’s the Grand Canyon or one’s favorite neighborhood park.

Heritage in Our Hands: UNESCO 50 Years Later will be on display through Fall 2022. Access is included with Penn Museum admission.


About the Penn Museum
The Penn Museum’s mission is to be a center for inquiry and the ongoing exploration of humanity for our University of Pennsylvania, regional, national, and global communities, following ethical standards and practices. Through conducting research, stewarding collections, creating learning opportunities, sharing stories, and creating experiences that expand access to archaeology and anthropology, the Museum builds empathy and connections across diverse cultures.

The Penn Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm. It is open until 8:00 pm on first Wednesdays of the month through March. The Café is open Tuesday-Thursday, 9:00 am-3:00 pm and Friday and Saturday, 10:00 am-2:00 pm. For information, visit, call 215.898.4000, or follow @PennMuseum on social media.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, promotes world peace and security through international cooperation in education, the arts, sciences, and culture.