How to Value Cultural Heritage

Many people care deeply about protecting cultural heritage. But determining its value is not as straightforward as it seems.

The purposeful destruction of cultural heritage by nonstate armed groups, militias or despotic governments amounts to social and cultural genocide. Bringing more rigor to the estimation of values can help focus attention on the full cost of such atrocities.

What is Cultural Heritage?

Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of society inherited from past generations. These can include works of art, architecture, music, and archaeological and historical sites. They also include traditions and social customs that are part of the culture.

The cultural heritage definition also includes natural heritage, such as the flora and fauna of the planet. However, the concept of what qualifies as cultural heritage can be somewhat subjective. It depends on the individual’s background, privilege/marginalization, education, and personal identity.

Another issue is that cultural heritage often has a controversial history. This can lead to a conflict between the cultural heritage of one group and another’s, or between different cultures. This is why it’s important to take a critical approach to heritage. This doesn’t mean being anti-heritage, but instead being willing to let go of any harmful or false traditions. This can also help prevent heritage from being exploited for tourism or political purposes.

Identifying Your Cultural Heritage

The cultural heritage we receive from our ancestors can be tangible, like heirlooms or locations, or intangible, such as traditions, beliefs, and skills. It can also be a combination of both.

When we talk about preserving cultural heritage, the first thing that comes to mind are artifacts such as paintings, drawings and prints, buildings, historical monuments, archaeological sites, and more. However, the concept of cultural heritage is more encompassing than that. It also includes intangible elements such as customs, practices, representations and expressions, knowledge and skills – and even landscapes.

There are several international organisations such as UNESCO and numerous initiatives at the regional or local level that work to protect cultural heritage. But they all need resources to do so, especially when dealing with fragile material. That’s why a tool such as Transkribus is needed: to help institutions digitise, transcribe and preserve their history. Then, this cultural treasure can be made accessible for future generations.

Finding Your Cultural Heritage

For people to value their heritage, they need to know about it. This is one reason why it’s important to study the physical artifacts that make up cultural heritage, as well as the values and traditions associated with them.

Unfortunately, heritage is often threatened by illegal trafficking and other criminal activity. Criminals pillage archaeological sites, break into ancient tombs and graves, destroy historical buildings, and steal cultural objects from museums and private collections. The United States is a leader in fighting this illicit trade through international partnerships, import restrictions, and programs that strengthen site protection, improve inventories, and build professional networks.

People also find their heritage in everyday activities and traditions, such as cooking a traditional meal, wearing a wedding veil to honor a family tradition, or attending a religious service at a historic place. These activities can help a person connect with their ancestors and share their positive values with future generations.

Creating Your Cultural Heritage

Heritage preservation is a complex topic that encompasses both the tangible and intangible. Cultural heritage includes cultural property and the value that society attaches to it (artistic, historic, scientific, social, etc). Cultural heritage can be protected by law or policy, but also through community action.

Cultural heritage can help foster a sense of identity and belonging. When communities protect their cultural heritage, they build a bond with their past and are able to envision their future. This can inspire pride and empower individuals within a community to take ownership of their culture.

Cultural heritage can be found in both the natural and built environment. It can be protected through adaptive reuse of existing buildings, which allows them to serve their community in new ways while maintaining their character. This can include transforming buildings into museums, schools, and offices. It can also involve the conservation and protection of landscapes, sites, or neighborhoods. Examples of this type of preservation are the repurposing of old mills, and converting former churches into homes.

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