Ideas and concepts are a main driving force in human progress, and they are arguably the most important contribution of the United Nations.

The project traced the origins and the evolution of key ideas about international economic and social development, with some inroads into peace and security, nurtured under UN auspices. The motivations behind these ideas as well as their relevance, influence, and impact were assessed against the backdrop of the socioeconomic and political situations of individual countries, the global economy, and major international developments. Though certain aspects of the UN's economic and social activities have been the subject of books and articles, until this project there had been no comprehensive attempt to compile the intellectual history of the world organization's contributions to setting past, present, or future development agendas. That changed with UNIHP publications, especially UN Ideas That Changed the World.

The United Nations Intellectual History Project (UNIHP) began in 1999 and completed its work in 2010. Seventeen volumes were published, and three have won prizes. A CD-ROM was produced in 2007 with the complete transcripts of seventy-nine in-depth interviews of persons who have made major contributions to UN thinking and action. The project continues to be cited and its findings disseminated. Especially pertinent are lessons for strengthening the UN to better respond to the challenges of the twenty-first century. These crucial lessons are emphasized in its 2009 capstone volume, UN Ideas That Changed the World.

Photo copyright © UN Photo/Mark Garten

United Nations Intellectual History Project
United Nations Intellectual History Project

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Ralph Bunch Institute for International Studies