Exploring the descriptions of World Heritage properties through the perspective of water using a narrative approach

T. Dai*, C.M. Hein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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A comprehensive understanding of water systems across space and time is key, both for sustainable urban development and heritage preservation. However, so far, a clear methodology that links the exploration of the past and the protection of heritage properties to the design of the future is still missing. We argue that an exploration of heritage through the lens of water systems using a narrative approach can facilitate the understanding and protection of heritage properties and connect heritage protection to water system thinking. In this research, we established a methodology to collect, code, categorise, and interpret the descriptions of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage properties created by state members and approved by UNESCO to better understandthe role that water systems currently play in the identification and protection of heritage properties. Based on our findings, we argue that adding water to the analysis of heritage can help overcome the ‘culture-nature’ divide. It can also facilitate the systematic thinking necessary for understanding the historic role of heritage properties and facilitating their protection. A water narrative approach can give due recognition to indigenous water narratives in heritage identification and value assessment. We stress the need for a new water awareness and water narrative, considering the input of a wide range of stakeholders to help develop shared strategies for how to identify, treat, utilise, and manage water resources and make them an inherent part of the balanced and sustainable development of historical waterfront cities. The UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape approach and the World Heritage Canopy offer potent tools to tackle current challenges and to emphasise the importance of the new narrative and contribute to its composition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1338
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Heritage Studies
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Water heritage
  • narrative
  • UNESCO world heritage properties
  • Outstanding Universal Value


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