The Mission

The mission of the Charleston World Heritage Coalition is to nominate historic sites representative of the Charleston rice culture as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the highest cultural and historical designation on Earth. The World Heritage List is comprised of 1031 natural and cultural sites that the World Heritage Committee under the international body of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declares to be significant to all of humanity.


Interested in learning more?

Listen to the CWHC’s podcast interview with Walter Edgar on South Carolina Public Radio’s Walter Edgar’s Journal.

The Reason

The history of Charleston’s rice culture is worthy of global recognition. This will be an opportunity to tell the whole story: the story of the infusion of African slaves & European/Caribbean immigrants in the creation of a booming, world-class colonial & antebellum metropolis.

The World Heritage moniker is globally renowned, and will enhance Charleston’s community culturally and economically. Being listed will encourage international assistance in preservation and education, including resources on sustainable urban development and tourism management, as well as worldwide recognition in support of local culture and arts. Charleston’s ability to attract superior twenty-first century business and people will be enhanced by demonstrating its superior quality of life.

The Coalition

We value inclusivity. This type of organization provides strength in numbers. We want to give every member of the community a voice in the project and we believe this is the most effective means to do so. Full participation demonstrates the greater Charleston area’s commitment to the project and ensures that everyone will share the rewards World Heritage status will bring. Robust community support shows our nation and the world that showcasing the rice culture is important to Charlestonians, and that we are committed to seeing this project through. The formation of a diverse coalition is for creating the best nomination possible. Meet our team and join the Coalition.

The Nomination

The nomination process affords an opportunity for Charleston to come together and discuss our city’s rich cultural heritage. This is a time to analyze the best and worst of our history in its entirety – from our early ethnic and cultural diversity to the abhorrent institution of slavery. Working hand in hand, our Coalition and Advisory Council will answer the questions: What is Charleston’s historic international significance? What exceptional universal values are represented here? What can we learn about ourselves, and all of humanity, through careful introspection of our unique history?

The World Heritage program is an international treaty between the United Nations’ subgroup UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and each state party’s government. In the United States, the National Park Service (NPS) administers the World Heritage process through the management of the “U.S. Tentative List,” which contains ten or more projects that NPS has declared worthy of World Heritage status. This process of selection occurs every 10 years, and is happening in 2016. NPS will be reviewing potential new World Heritage sites in the United States and by September 2016 will invite a select number of new projects onto the U.S. Tentative List.

The Programs

While seeking World Heritage status, the Coalition also seeks to enlighten people of every age in our community about Charleston’s rich cultural and historic tapestry. We are actively using the nomination process as a catalyst to provide education and information to K-12, university and graduate students, as well as the general public. Our partnerships will ultimately afford public school students greater heritage and preservation-based leaning opportunities by using the proposed World Heritage site as a case study. The College of Charleston is providing integral support for preparation of the nomination documents. As our Coalition membership grows, so too will our partnerships and programs.

What is UNESCO World Heritage?

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO oversees numerous valuable programs that foster global educational opportunities. They also oversee the World Heritage List, which identifies cultural and natural places on Earth that are important to all of humanity and should be preserved for future generations. If you are unfamiliar with World Heritage, you are not alone. Although it is well known around the globe, it isn’t a program that is highlighted often in America – yet!

How many World Heritage Sites are there?

There are currently 1031 World Heritage Sites across 160 countries, all of which have signed the World Heritage Convention.  There are 23 sites in the United States. Ten of these are cultural sites, such as Monticello and the University of Virginia, the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall and the Pueblos at Taos, New Mexico. The remaining are natural sites, like Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

 There are no sites in South Carolina nor any sites highlighting the American slave trade and the contributions of the African population on the development of the United States. We aim to change this.

How does a site become inscribed on the World Heritage List?

Sites are nominated by their national government to a “Tentative List.” In the United States, the National Park Service (NPS) manages the list for the Department of the Interior. CWHC’s Advisory Council will prepare the nomination in tandem with experienced heritage consultants who are trained in World Heritage nominations.

 The process of creating the nomination packet is a mix of exploring undiscovered history – analyzing how structures were created and who designed and built them.  The intriguing part of the process is finding new connections that relate a site to the whole world.  The second aspect is a management plan that demonstrates that universally important aspects of the site will be preserved forever. The management plan is similar to the historic zoning ordinances in Charleston.

Why should Charleston seek World Heritage Designation?

The 2008 Charleston Preservation Plan, a document commissioned by the City of Charleston and guided by the Historic Charleston Foundation, call for the exploration of a World Heritage designation:

 “Parts of Charleston’s lower peninsula may merit World Heritage status. The city has been lauded in international press for its historic character, and the nomination process would provide another opportunity to articulate its historic value and preservation practices in national and international forums. Listing as a World Heritage Site inevitably will increase knowledge and interest by local residents, the American public and the international community.”

The Charleston World Heritage Project will be:

  • Short in time (Less than 3 years)

  • Low in cost   (Less than $1 million)

  • Immense in long-term value for the entire community (Immeasurable)

The Charleston Lowcountry is worthy of this global designation. We have a rich history of preserving our material and cultural history for new generations to experience, and we have the opportunity to tell a significant story of international proportions.

Participation in a project of this magnitude affords a rare opportunity to create a positive impact across multiple segments of the community. World Heritage status will celebrate the importance of our history on an international platform while affirming our city’s commitment to building a better future for its citizens. It will serve as a perpetual badge of honor for Charleston’s present and future generations.

The World Heritage brand is globally renowned. Earning World Heritage designation will distinguish us from our economic competitors, while also fostering cultural awareness and innovation. It will affirm that Charleston is a city of irreplaceable value that is worthy of global corporate investment in time, money, and talent. It will also promote local economy at the national and international levels, increasing job opportunity and improving quality of life for local citizens.

World Heritage sites also have access to preferential funding through the World Heritage Foundation for disaster relief, site management, and technical assistance with maintenance and repairs. We will also use WH status to create jobs, diversify our economy and attract top-notch social capital. For more info on how we can use the designation for the betterment of the entire community, see our “Benefits” handout.

Why is it important for a coalition to spearhead the nomination?

Our approach to nomination isn’t the only thing that sets us apart from other cities.

Other cities seeking nomination have done so through historic preservation organizations. Preservation is a vital part of WH, so this makes sense. But using only one organization to acquire status doesn’t take full advantage of the partnerships and opportunities that bring benefits to the whole community. We recognize the great value of the project to every Charlestonian, so we are structuring a Coalition that will be able to use designation long after it is given. This governing structure will keep the cost of inscription low, bring diverse talents and interests to the project, and foster partnerships across member organizations.

Additional information can be found at the UNESCO World Heritage Website

The CWHC is a registered 501c3 organization. Contributions to the Coalition are tax deductible.