Thirty experts from some 20 countries gathered on the 29th and 30th of August 2017 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to discuss examples of cross-cultural exchange throughout human history, to better understand the processes of mutual influences and to discuss responses to the challenges of intercultural dialogue today.

The topics discussed throughout the 2 days and 6 sessions were: the main lessons drawn from UNESCO’s General and Regional Histories and Routes of Dialogue; the great moments of dialogue between people and cultures; the main markers of these periods; how Digital Routes can become the new Routes of Dialogue; and the potential of digital technologies for dialogue. The participants analyzed the major periods of dialogue and the main geographic spaces where progress accelerated, thanks to favorable conditions such as development of science, political stability and relative prosperity.

During this international seminar, six foundations presented their findings of how to utilize digital technologies and materials to foster mutual understanding and dialogue. One such example is the Book on the Road initiative, which encourages mobile users to read animations designed for youth, which teaches about music and instruments from different cultures.

The rising of intolerance and discrimination makes revisiting the historical achievements of the human history increasingly necessary, in order to offer alternate perspective of the exchanges between people. The monumental work carried out by UNESCO, in the framework of the General and Regional Histories and Routes of Dialogue, provides a better understanding of the cultural, scientific and technological development of humankind.

Participants to the seminar debating © UNESCO

A cross reading of these histories allows for reflection on the global transformations that shaped our modern world. The peculiarity of The History of Humanity has been to offer a universal account of the human mind. The General History of Africa has made it possible to both reexamine the historical methodologies and broaden the knowledge of African history. The History of Civilizations of Central Asia covered, for the first time, the history of a region whose boundaries had long remained unclear. Specialists of the Central Asian region analyzed the reciprocal influences contributed by the people that crossed paths and exchanged there, and were able to identify a common heritage, which developed along the Silk Roads.

The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture collection, completed in 2016, offers a holistic and pluralistic view of the Islamic faith’s foundation, the status of individuals in an Islamic society, and of the Islamic civilization’s impressive contributions to science and technology. The General History of Latin America marked the first attempt to write a history of the continent’s complex societies, born from the encounter among the native, European and African civilizations. Finally, The General History of the Caribbean revealed a common destiny of Creole societies, which were mainly formed in this insular region, and were marked by the horror of slavery and the struggles of resistance and emancipation.

Exchanges between populations have also taken place along the major Routes of Dialogue, such as the Silk Roads, Slaves Route, Iron Route, Faith Route, and the Route of Andalusia, which highlighted the dynamics of the transfers and exchanges of knowledge, beliefs, lifestyles, and more.

“The work done through these General Regional Histories and Routes of Dialogue is at the heart of UNESCO mandate and should inspire its efforts to repositioning itself in the new international context”, explained Dr. Shirin Akiner, Senior Fellow at the Cambridge Central Asian Forum, University of Cambridge.

Participants also discussed the challenge of writing a Global History of Humankind, taking into account the plurality of perspectives and highlighting the interactions and interdependence between events that occurred in different parts of the world.

The main outcome of the meeting was the interest of participating institutions to partner with UNESCO to join in the efforts to develop educational material towards the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), for which UNESCO has been designated the lead agency.