cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is a legacy transmitted from one generation to the next that combines physical tangible artefacts and ways of doing with immaterial and intangible values and knowledge.

Its value lies in its ability to provide a sense of identity and continuity, and to generate a wealth of learning and creativity for present and future generations. It is also a key element in the protection of human rights and promoting sustainable development.

What is Cultural Heritage?

Cultural heritage is a legacy of tangible and intangible heritage assets that societies have inherited from past generations. It includes works of art, architecture, literature and music, archaeological and historical objects, and social customs, traditions and practices that characterize and identify a society’s uniqueness.

The cultural legacy encapsulated in these physical assets and intangible heritage, however, also undergoes cycles of change as they are exposed to the weathering processes of the environment, including climate change. This impacts the quality of these assets and the people who care for them.

The preservation of cultural heritage is increasingly important because it is a critical component of human well-being and identity. It fosters a sense of identity, collective memory and mutual understanding between communities; it contributes to social cohesion and stability.

Definition of Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations.

A variety of people can play a role in the safeguarding of cultural heritage, from conservators and law enforcement personnel to architects, historians and archaeologists. Other professionals such as artists, biologists, forensic anthropologists and botanists may also be involved in the process.

While cultural heritage may often be taken for granted, it can also be a source of conflict and disagreement among people, particularly when values associated with one group are challenged by others. For example, some Indigenous communities in the United States may find monuments to their ancestors denigrated by other groups or by the general public. This is a problem that must be addressed by governments and international organizations. It is important to take a human rights approach to this issue.

Definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Intangible Cultural Heritage refers to the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognize as part of their Cultural Heritage.

UNESCO defines ICH as “traditional, contemporary and living at the same time” and calls it inclusive, representative and community-based (UNESCO 2003). It comprises traditions and living expressions transmitted from one generation to another and sustaining human beings with a sense of identity and continuity.

Intangible cultural heritage is an essential component of a healthy society and sustainable development. It is also essential for preserving diversity and for ensuring social cohesion in today’s increasingly globalized world.

Definition of Tangible Cultural Heritage

Tangible cultural heritage consists of physical artefacts, buildings, monuments and other items that are produced and maintained by people in intergenerational relationships. These can represent a culture’s values and beliefs, and are important to human history.

UNESCO defines tangible cultural heritage as the “artistic, historic, and built heritage of a society”. Examples include buildings and other structures; monuments; archaeological relics; artifacts and materials of scientific or technical significance; and other physical products of human creativity that have been invested with cultural value by societies.

However, intangible cultural heritage – the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills and other elements of a community’s life and ways of knowing – is just as critical to culture’s survival. Intangible cultural heritage can serve as a way for people to define themselves and their community, provide continuity between generations, and help to create and strengthen social cohesion, diversity, and sustainability. It can also serve as a basis for economic and social regeneration, tourism, and sustainable development.

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