There are 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout the world. Each of them offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of complex civilizations, empires, and religions. Some, however, are facing an existential crisis. This series offers an in-depth overview of four UNESCO World Heritage sites that have suffered grievous damage in recent decades, from Palmyra to the Great Barrier Reef. Each lavishly illustrated program goes far beyond the typical tourist experience by incorporating the insights of the latest scholarship and research.
Justin M. Jacobs, associate professor of history at American University, is the author of several books, including The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures. He is currently producing a 24-episode series on UNESCO World Heritage Sites for The Great Courses.
Please Note: Individual sessions are available for individual purchase.
MAY 18 Palmyra
During the first several centuries A.D., the Syrian desert oasis of Palmyra was a crucial link in an overland trade network that stretched from Rome to India. The profits of this trade were re-invested in stunning monuments and works of art that fused Western and Eastern sensibilities. Jacobs explores the history of Palmyra, its monuments and sculptures, and its fate during the Syrian civil war.
MAY 25 The Bamiyan Buddhas
The standing stone statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan were the largest representations of the Buddha in the world until their destruction by the Taliban in 2001. Jacobs delves into the history of the Bamiyan Buddhas, their construction, original purpose and function, and how they exemplified the epitome of Buddhist civilization in Central Asia. He also examines their complex and surprising relationship with successive Muslim rulers of Afghanistan, as a means of placing their destruction by the Taliban into proper historical context.
JUNE 1 Timbuktu
Though it is often considered a remote, mysterious, and even imaginary place in the Western imagination, Timbuktu was at the center of the Islamic world in the 15th and 16th centuries. Profiting off the wealth accumulated from its position on an important sub-Saharan trade route, Timbuktu quickly became a seat of Muslim learning and helped facilitate the early Islamization of much of northern Africa. Jacobs pays particular attention to the tens of thousands of ancient Arabic manuscripts that have emerged from private collections over the past half century, with the goal of understanding how Timbuktu has become a new site of ideological contestation in our own era.
JUNE 8 The Great Barrier Reef
Stretching for more than 1,400 miles across the northeastern coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is home to the world’s largest coral reef system as well as an extraordinary diversity of marine life. Jacobs highlights the geological and biological evolution of the Reef, its evolving cultural importance, and the manmade and environmental forces that now threaten its very existence.
Photo caption: Clockwise; Roman and other ruins at Palmyra, Syria, Bamiyan Buddha ruins, Afghanistan; Great Mosque of Djenné, Timbuktu, Mali; Stony Coral Colony and soldier fish Great Barrier Reef Australia
- If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
- Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from CustomerService@SmithsonianAssociates.org.
- Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of each session. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of each session, please email Customer Service for assistance.
- View Common FAQs about our Streaming Programs on Zoom.