The UNESCO Library site holds bibliographies of UNESCO documents, as well as links to other useful resources.
UNESDOC provides online access to all of UNESCO’s recent publications through a searchable database of .pdfs, often downloadable in several different languages.
The UNESCO histories attempt to be universal, encompassing various philosophies of history, points of view, and approaches. Multi-volume histories have been produced on History of Humanity, History of Civilizations of Asia, General History of Latin America, The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture, General History of Africa, and General History of the Caribbean. All the histories are downloadable in .pdf form.
Interactive exploration of UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, including panoramic views, pictures, a focus on the Garden of Peace, and details about touring the grounds and buildings. See also the UNESCO page on the headquarters, here.
UNESCO and Race
The evolution of UNESCO’s position on race can be traced through its four major documents, put together in a .pdf by UNESCO itself.
UNESCO Legal Instruments
This site documents most of the legal instruments, conventions, recommendations, and other official agreements that UNESCO has issued.
Routes of Knowledge: The Global History of UNESCO, 1945-75
This project will explore UNESCO's global impact on its member states throughout the world. The Danish-funded project will run from 2013-2017.
UNESCO treaties form the backbone of the organization’s work, and are often formative documents in creating international, worldwide accord on certain issues.
The UNESCO constitution, signed in 1945, famously declared that ‘since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.’
Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
This convention, from 1972, was the founding document that led, amongst other things, the the setting up of World Heritage Sites. The website of the World Heritage Centre is here.
UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights
As scientists made leaps of discovery that would lead to mapping the genome and advances in stem cell research, UNESCO in 1997 asserted the nature of human rights as they applied to genetic characteristics, taking it beyond its previous agreements on race.
UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity
Declaring the ‘cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature,’ the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity was signed in 2001.
Amrith, Sunil, and Sluga, Glenda, ‘New Histories of the United Nations’, Journal of World History, Vol. 19, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 251-274
Amrith and Sluga outline new developments in the historiography of internationalism and international organizations. This has come, they argue, through historians’ prior interests in questions of race, nationalism, anticolonialism, gender, and so on. Amrith and Sluga look at the new histories being writting, and place the UN within world history as a site of culture and influence, continuity and change.
Archibald, Gail, Les États-Unis et l’UNESCO, 1944-1963 (Paris, 1993: Sorbonne)
Analysis of the policy of the USA regarding UNESCO from the end of the Second World War to the death of President Kennedy in 1963. (In French.)
Bashford, Alison, ‘Population, Geopolitics, and International Organizations in the Mid Twentieth Century’, Journal of World History, Vol. 19, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 327-348)
Population, argues Bashford, has not properly been assessed as an issue in the historiography of international organizations: properly defined, the question raises problems of geopolitics. Bashford looks at two occasion on which cultural, internationalist intellectuals analysed the problems of population. The first was when the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation produced Peaceful Change, the second when UNESCO under Julian Huxley attempted to make population a key world issue.
Betts, Paul, and Corey Ross, "Modern Historical Preservation – Towards a Global Perspective," Past and Present vol. 226 (2015), pp. 7-26.
This introduction to multiple articles on UNESCO and other attempts at preservation argues for a global perspective.
Betts, Paul, "The Warden of World Heritage: UNESCO and the Rescue of the Nubian Monuments," Past and Present vol. 226 (2015), pp. 100-125.
The article examines the twenty-year UNESCO campaign to save the Nubian statues from submersion by the High Aswan Dam project in Egypt in the 1960s.
Betts, Paul, “Humanity's New Heritage: Unesco and the Rewriting of World History,” Past and Present vol. 228 (2015), pp. 249-285.
Betts explores how UNESCO has pursued its “civilizing mission” of global peace and creating cross-cultural understanding ever since its founding during a short-lived post-World War II internationalism. Betts also argues for the importance of UNESCO’s history, which has been underexplored up to now.
Brattain, Michelle, ‘Race, Racism, and Antiracism: UNESCO and the Politics of Presenting Science to the Postwar Public’, American Historical Review, Vol. 112, No. 5 (December 2007), pp. 1386-1413
Brattain uses various UNESCO projects on race to challenge prevailing historical uses of fixed racial terms. UNESCO’s actions showed race to be an historical construct like anything else, and such a recognition needs to be applied to history and current debates.
Coate, Roger A., Unilateralism, Ideology, and U.S. Foreign Policy: the United States in and out of UNESCO (Boulder, CO, 1988: L. Rienner)
Coate analyses the December 1984 decision of the US government to withdraw from UNESCO. Attacking the accusations levelled at UNESCO by the Reagan administration, Coate argues that the US policy process was manipulated by ideologues interested in increasing American unilateralism and power.
Di Giovine, Michael A., The Heritage-Scape: UNESCO, World Heritage, and Tourism (Lanham, MD, 2009: Lexington)
Di Giovine argues that UNESCO’s designation and promotion of world heritage sites is not part of a political process designed to increase tourist revenues, but is part of a reordering and restructuring of the world without geographical boundaries. They thus play a key part in UNESCO’s overall mandate to create peace in the minds of all people.
Dorn, Charles, and Ghodsee, Kristen, 'The Cold War Politicization of Literacy: Communism, UNESCO, and the World Bank', Diplomatic History 36:2 (April 2012), pp. 373-398
The articles examines the history of literacy promotion by both UNESCO and the World Bank as well as its politicization in the context of the Cold War. Review by H-Diplo found here.
Duedahl, Poul, ‘Selling Mankind: UNESCO and the Invention of Global History, 1945-1976’, Journal of World History, Vol. 22, No. 1 (March 2011), pp. 101-133
Duedahl lays the roots of the new global history at the door of UNESCO. Seeking to support UN peacekeeping through changes in humankind’s thoughts, UNESCO launched the History of Mankind project to develop a world history without geographical constraints. International unity was to be created by outlining the common cultural heritage.
Dutt, Sagarika, The Politicization of the United Nations Specialized Agencies: A Case Study of UNESCO (Lewiston, NY, 1995: Mellen University Press)
Dutt compares views of the politicization of UNESCO, particularly focusing on the US Department of State. She also looks at how well UNESCO has dealt with this problem, analysing the Korean War, colonialism and racism, cultural property in Jerusalem, and the US and UK withdrawals from UNESCO in the 1980s.
________, UNESCO and a Just World Order (New York, 2002: Nova Science)
A history of UNESCO, promoting its role for the future, and especially its importance for developing nations.
Gienow-Hecht, Jessica C. E., and Schumacher, Frank (eds.), Culture and International History (New York, 2003: Berghahn)
Though its focus on international history does not extend to international organizations or agencies, this collection of essays is important in showing methods and some examples of the ‘new’ international history of culture.
Giffard, C. Anthony, UNESCO and the Media (New York, 1989: Longman)
Giffard uses the 1984 withdrawal of the USA from UNESCO to analyze how far greater freedom of the press, particularly less of a reliance on State Department spokespeople and a greater willingness and interest in the international aspects of UNESCO’s work, might have affected that decision and public reaction to it.
Hajnal, Peter I., Guide to UNESCO (New York, 1983: Oceana)
Hajnal presents a guide to UNESCO’s operations and practicalities for the scholar, with references to primary and secondary literature, as well as a usefully large bibliography running to over 400 items. Hajnal covers items such as UNESCO’s origins, financing, structure, documentation, programmes, projects, and other actions.
Hanrieder, Tine, International Organization in Time: Fragmentation and Reform (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)
Hanrieder’s comparison of the history of the WHO with ILO and UNESCO explores how the UN system operates and divides competencies between agencies.
Harley, William G., Creative Compromise: The MacBride Commission: a Firsthand Report and Reflection on the Workings of UNESCO’s International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (Lanham, MD, 1993: University of America Press)
Harley looks back at the creation of the MacBride Report which, in 1980, advocated for democratisation of mass media, criticising the commercialization and concentration of media outlets.
Hazard Jr., Anthony Q., Postwar Anti-racism: The Untied States, UNESCO, and "Race," 1945-1968 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
Hazard examines the United States' interaction with UNESCO and explores how this intersected with American Cold War diplomatic strategies.
Hoggart, Richard, An Idea and its Servants: UNESCO from Within (New York, 1978: Oxford University Press; New Brunswick, 2011: Transaction Publishers)
Hoggart was Professor of English at the University of Birmingham before spending five years as an Assistant Director-General of UNESCO. His personal evidence is largely critical of the organization, but he concludes that it should continue its work due to many important projects, albeit with improvements.
Huxley, Julian, UNESCO, its purpose and its philosophy (London, 1946; Washington, D.C., 1947; repr. London, 2010: Euston Grove Press)
Huxley was UNESCO’s first director-general. In this pamphlet, printed around the time of UNESCO’s founding, he sets out UNESCO’s future, and what it has drawn upon.
Iriye, Akira, Cultural Internationalism and World Order (Baltimore, MD, 1997: Johns Hopkins University Press)
Iriye, in a series of lectures turned into a book, shows how important cultural internationalism was to the progress of the twentieth century, not only focusing on efforts in the West, but in Asia. Iriye argues that no world order can remain stable based on power politics alone, but requires cultural exchange to foster partnership.
________, Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World (Berkeley, CA, 2002: University of California Press)
organizations committed to cultural exchanges form a large part of Iriye’s argument that transnational and international cultural forces need to be restored to a position of prominence when we think about international relations.
Jones, Phillip W., International Policies for Third World Education: UNESCO, Literacy and Development (London, 1988: Routledge)
Jones attributes UNESCO’s failings to inherent structural difficulties, uncertainties over methods and objectives, political infighting, and its surprising divorce from the intellectual and scholarly community.
________, ‘UNESCO and the Politics of Global Literacy’, Comparative Education Review, Vol. 34, No. 1 (February 1990), pp. 41-60
Jones looks at both the politics of literacy and the politics of UNESCO to illuminate both, building on his earlier book.
________, The United Nations and Education: Multilateralism, Development and Globalisation (RoutledgeFalmer, 2005: Abingdon)
Jones’s third book on multilateral efforts to improve education compares the methods of the UN, World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the UNDP.
Laqua, Daniel (ed.), Internationalism Reconfigured: Transnational Ideas and Movements Between the World Wars (New York, 2011: Macmillan)
Collection of essays that takes interwar internationalism seriously. Includes articles such as Waqar Zaidi’s ‘Liberal Internationalist Approaches to Science and Technology in Interwar Britain and the US’, as well as pieces on economics and ideas.
Laqua, Daniel, ‘Transnational intellectual cooperation, the League of Nations, and the problem of order’, Journal of Global History, Vol. 6 No. 2 (July 2011), pp. 223-247
Laqua argues that a transnational quest for an intellectual idea of ‘order’ lay at the heart of intellectual cooperation between the wars. Concern for new forms of order results in the heightened position of intellectuals within institutions and for those institutions themselves. Instead of looking at institutions and diplomatic processes, Laqua analyses intellectual genealogies and trajectories within the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation and the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation.
Laves, Walter H. C., and Thomson, Charles A., UNESCO: Purpose, Progress, Prospects (Bloomington, 1957: Indiana University Press)
One of the first histories of UNESCO, written primarily by one of its first Deputy Directors-General (Laves). It places UNESCO within the Cold War context, and unsurprisingly argues that neither the USA nor the USSR has done enough to support the body.
Maurel, Chloé, ‘L’UNESCO aujourd’hui’, Vingtième siècle. Revue d’histoire, No. 102 (April-June 2009), pp. 131-144
Maurel argues that, having previously seemed in decline because of administrative and political problems, UNESCO appears to be regaining a lost role in world politics. This argument is based on the rejoining of the USA in 2003 and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions of 2007, in which UNESCO played a key role at the expense of other organizations.
________,"Internationalization and Decentring of UNESCO: Representation and Influence of 'Non-Western' Countries, 1945-1987," Comparativ 4-5 (2013).
________, Histoire de l'UNESCO: les trente premières années, 1945-1974 (Paris, 2010: L’Harmattan)
A fully international history of UNESCO’s first thirty years which looks at politicisation and the increasing turn away from scientists and intellectuals towards managers in the running of UNESCO (as a result of international politics). The ideals of UNESCO, aiming towards brotherhood, education, and peace, constantly ran up against colonial politics.
McCarthy, Kathleen D., ‘From Cold War to Cultural Development: The International Cultural Activities of the Ford Foundation, 1950-1980’, Daedalus, Vol. 116, No. 1 (Winter 1987), pp. 93-117
McCarthy charts how the Ford Foundation overcame its traditional bias against unquantifiable cultural projects in the international sphere during first the Cold War period of the 1950s, and then the ‘development’ era of the 1960s and early 1970s. Its projects also moved from ‘liberal universalism’ to cultural relativism, reflecting the changing position of the USA within the international system.
Pearson, Christopher E. M., Designing UNESCO: Art, Architecture, and International Politics at Mid-Century (Farnham, 2010: Ashgate)
Pearson, an architectural historian, looks at the creation and artistic reception of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, a collaboration between numerous famous modernist architects. The UNESCO headquarters, he argues, are a unique way of looking at the intersecting ideas and assumptions of artists like Breuer, Le Corbusier, Gropius, Saarinen, Picasso, Moore, Calder, and Noguchi.
Preston, Jr., William, Herman, Edward S., and Schiller, Herman I., Hope and Folly: the United States and UNESCO, 1945-1985 (Minneapolis, MN, 1989: University of Minnesota Press)
Highly critical of the 1984 decision to withdraw from UNESCO, this book attacks the Reagan administration in a polemic.
Rao, Kishore, ‘A new paradigm for the identification, nomination and inscription of properties on the World Heritage List’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 16:3 (May 2010), pp. 161–172.
Rao is the Deputy Director of the World Heritage Centre in Paris, and argues for a new policy of nominations to the World Heritage List. Rao advocates greater central control for the World Heritage Committee to bypass international politics and enhance international cooperation to create a more representative list.
Renoliet, Jean-Jacques, L’UNESCO oubliée: la Société des Nations et la coopération intellectuelle, 1919-1946 (Paris, 1999: Sorbonne)
Renoliet looks at the history of the Organisation of Intellectual Co-Operation and its associated institutional structures. The Organisation failed to promote its vision of intellectual cooperation and world peace because of its elitism and the refusal of the major powers to take part. (In French.)
Rothschild, Emma, ‘The Archives of Universal History’, Journal of World History, Vol. 19, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 375-401
Rothschild uses UNESCO’s responsibilities for the world’s archives to look at early proposals for an international or world archive aimed at keeping the peace; at the ways in which archives are international and transnational, and at the development of and problems with the archives of international organizations. Rothschild argues that the UN’s work on archives in itself is something of historical and political interest.
Schmitt, Thomas M., Cultural Governance. Zur Kulturgeographie des UNESCO-Welterberegimes (Stuttgart, 2011: Franz Steiner)
Review in German on H-Soz-Kult here.
Selcer, Perrin, "The View from Everywhere: Disciplining Diversity in Post-World War II International Social Science," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 45, No. 4 (2009), pp. 309-329.
On the Social Sciences Department of UNESCO, which sought to coordinate and internationalize American disciplines of social science under the rallying cry of "unity in diversity."
Sewell, James Patrick, UNESCO and World Politics: Engaging in International Relations (Princeton, 1975: Princeton University Press)
Sewell uses UNESCO as a case study for the relative failures of international organizations. The policies of international bodies, Sewell argues, results from states which are actively engaged with them, rather than by overt conflicts between member states, furthermore arguing that insufficient numbers of powerful states are suitably engaged.
Shepard, Todd, ‘Algeria, France, Mexico, UNESCO: A Transnational History of Anti-Racism and Decolonization, 1932-1962’, Journal of Global History, Vol. 6 No. 2 (July 2011), pp. 273-297
Shepard argues that French integrationists aiming to prevent the causes and effects of racism against ‘Muslim French citizens from Algeria’ gained detailed knowledge for their policies from transnational networks of social scientists, in particular UNESCO. Ideas, indeed, came from Mexican efforts.
Silverman, Helaine, ‘Border wars: the ongoing temple dispute between Thailand and Cambodia and UNESCO’s World Heritage List’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2011), pp. 1–21
Silverman looks at the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over a Khmer temple on the border between the countries. Iconic sites, she argues, are important in national identity as well as the tourism market. Silverman questions UNESCO policy regarding contested nominations to the World Heritage List, looking to future policy issues.
Singh, J. P., United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Creating Norms for a Complex World (London, 2011: Routledge)
An Associate Professor at Georgetown University, Singh has written a full history of UNESCO detailing the organization in its intellectual and international context. Singh particularly focuses on the ways in which UNESCO has and has not created norms in a complicated world of issue-generators and world actors.
Singh, S. Nihal, The Rise and Fall of UNESCO (Ahmedabad, 1988: Allied)
A very short history of UNESCO written after the USA and UK had withdraw. Singh argues that UNESCO is condemned to failure, because in a globalised and atomised world honest debate of intellectual issues between nations is impossible, let alone banishing war from the minds of men.
Sluga, Glenda, ‘UNESCO and the (One) World of Julian Huxley’, Journal of World History, Vol. 21, No. 3 (September 2010), pp. 393-418
Sluga analyses ideas of cosmopolitan internationalism as they pertained to the origins and development of UNESCO at and after the end of the Second World War. For Sluga, Huxley was at the centre of a drive towards ‘world citizenship’ which was an important link between international organizations, conceptions of historical and political progress, and imperial practices.
Spaulding, Seth, and Lin Lin, Historical Dictionary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (Lanham, MD, 1997: Scarecrow Press)
Dictionary of people, events, and so on, pertinent to the history of UNESCO. Also includes bibliographical information.
Taillibert, Christel, L’Institut international du cinématographe international éducatif (Paris, 1999: L’Harmattan)
Looking at the place of educational cinema within the Institute of Intellectual Co-Operation, Taillibert traces the history of the Institute linking it to international politics and, especially, the influence of Mussolini’s Italy.
Tocatlian, Jacques, ‘The Role of Unesco in International Scientific Communication’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (January 1988), pp. 84–94.
Tocatlian looks at how UNESCO has been involved with communication of information across national boundaries, helps with access to data, and improves member states’ informational capacities. For Tocatlian, this lies principally in UNESCO’s action to develop internationally agreed-upon methods, and work at local, regional, and national levels.
Verna, Chantalle F., "Haiti, the Rockefeller Foundation, and UNESCO's Pilot Project in Fundamental Education, 1948-1953," Diplomatic History (2015). Currently available only online.
The article examines the short-lived cooperation between the UN, Haitian government, and the Rockefeller Foundation to try to eradicate illiteracy. The piece explores how the US' reputation as a repository of expertise, information, and financing increased with the expansion of international development after 1945.
Wells, Clare, The UN, UNESCO, and the Politics of Knowledge (New York, 1987: St. Martin’s)
Looking at debates on freedom of information, education, science, and culture, Wells shows that the UN and UNESCO are inherently politicised bodies, as apparent to newcomers to the bodies in areas such as weighted voting, staffing, budgets, and location. Wells, a former UNESCO worker, argues that Western dominance of such organizations will continue.
Wöbse, Anna-Katharina, ‘The world after all was one’: The International Environmental Network of UNESCO and IUPN, 1945-1950’, Contemporary European History, Vol. 20, No. 3 (August 2011), pp. 331-348
Wöbse analyses a little investigated aspect of UNESCO’s work, nature conservation. Conservation, over just five years, started out being a fairly specialised subject but its experience through UNESCO and the International Union for the Protection of Nature showed how interlinked it quickly became in the realm of governance with issues like nutrition, development, and health.
Wong, Laura Elizabeth, ‘Relocating East and West: UNESCO’s Major Project on the Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values’, Journal of World History, Vol. 19, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 349-374
Wong uses UNESCO textbooks to show that international cultural relations changed representations of East and West during the 1950s and 1960s, alongside political changes such as decolonization and a shift in numbers to Asian and Arab voices within international organizations. Regionally distinct representations of Europe and Asia were portrayed in these textbooks, which were informed but not determined by the Cold War.