On 16 November 1945, the Constitution of UNESCO was signed by 37 countries in London, United Kingdom, and came into force on 4 November 1946.
During the past 70 years, UNESCO has acted as a global laboratory of ideas. But how have they been translated into action and how have they improved the world? Answering this question is the challenge taken up by an international group of researchers who are currently working on a new history of UNESCO, based not only on its ideas, but also on their relevance and their impact on the ground.
Constructing peace in the minds of people – this is UNESCO's overall mandate. "Mission: Impossible"? Not necessarily.
The national publishing house in Republic of Korea, capable to produce thirty-million books per year in a country where, in the beginning of the 1950s, “one class textbook was a luxury,” is one of many examples of the tangible impact of UNESCO in the world.
Since 1945, UNESCO adopted a holistic approach to education and succeeded in convincing the world that education was an essential tool for development. Today that seems obvious. Seventy years ago, much less so, and the Organization had to fight for the idea to be accepted.
Another innovation: UNESCO introduced on the world scene what we might call today a “world book policy.” According to the experts, this unprecedented initiative had a “clear positive impact on book development, on literacy and on education throughout the world.”
“Whenever it is, whatever form it takes, racism is an evil force, and to the extent that UNESCO can kill it by the truth, it will do good,” the New York Times proclaimed in 1950, almost a year after UNESCO launched a major campaign to combat racism.
The move towards global history, a historiographical trend currently in vogue which aims to study of interactions between civilizations, was preceded long ago by the project for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind, endorsed by UNESCO in 1947. The collection of general and regional histories now consists of over 50 volumes. Approximately 40,000 pages were written by 1,600 international experts.
The Major Project on the Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values is another telling example of how UNESCO approached history, with focus on interaction among cultures, since 1956.
It is clear that a purely technical analysis of the results of UNESCO’s work is more simple than a study of the Organization’s ethical impact. But it is also clear that UNESCO, since its creation, has sought to “build a utopia that would allow us to share an Earth on which no one would take decisions for other people,” as described by the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez in an interview in the UNESCO Courier
List of the features
17 November 2015 Agnès Borde Meyer: UNESCO in the Field of Iranian and Afghan Archeology
16 November 2015 Elikia M'Bokolo: UNESCO against historical amnesia (in French)
16 November 2015 Jens Boel: Fundamental Education, A Pioneer Concept
16 November 2015 Céline Giton: UNESCO's World Book Policy and its Impacts
16 November 2015 Aigul Kulnazarova: Historical Reconciliation and Education in Japan
26 October 2015 Poul Duedahl: Is UNESCO Changing the World?