Protecting Cultural Heritage

The ravages of war, natural disasters and the illicit international market have all contributed to the loss of cultural heritage. Whether it is ancient archaeological artifacts or the irreplaceable historic districts of cities like Aleppo and Mosul, this chapter explores the value of protecting cultural heritage.

Culture crosses borders, even across time. Think of the influence of Japanese prints on Paul Gauguin’s paintings or neoclassical architecture in Liberian homes built by enslaved Africans.

Tangible Artifacts

When people think about cultural heritage, they often immediately envision artifacts, such as paintings or sculptures. However, the scope of cultural heritage is much wider than that and includes both tangible and intangible items. Tangible cultural heritage includes any physical artifact that transmits important historical and cultural knowledge from generation to generation. This includes monuments, town sites and archeological sites, as well as works of art, like mosaics or stained glass windows.

Despite its importance, cultural heritage is prone to being destroyed or damaged by a variety of factors. In many cases, this is due to natural causes, like weather or insects, but there are also man-made disasters that can be just as devastating, such as the fire that ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in France.

Cultural heritage is also a delicate topic because it can be hard to define. What makes something a part of a culture is very subjective and can change over time. What might be considered cultural heritage for one group may not be for another, and there are a number of things that can influence whether or not something is considered to be a part of a culture, including the history of an area, religious beliefs, economics, social values, education and personal identity.

What are the defining features of a culture?

While there is a lot of debate about what cultural heritage actually is, most definitions include artifacts and places. For example, UNESCO defines cultural heritage as “the tangible and intangible expressions of human creativity invested with cultural significance”. This means that the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and other famous monuments are considered to be part of a nation’s cultural heritage because they reflect the values and aspirations of its people.

What are the most common threats to cultural heritage?

As humans, we are not good at predicting or protecting our environment. The same goes for the preservation of cultural heritage. The elements of nature can damage or destroy cultural artifacts if they are exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity, which is why museums and other institutions are always working to protect their collections from environmental stresses. Human-made threats can be just as destructive, with armed conflicts and other natural disasters putting cultural heritage at risk around the world.

Fortunately, there are some ways in which we can help to protect cultural heritage. One way is by promoting the use of adaptive technology, like Transkribus, for cultural heritage transcription and preservation. This software can help to recognise handwritten text, as well as printed and scanned documents, so that these can be transcribed and made more easily accessible for research or general public consumption.

Ultimately, it is up to individuals to preserve their cultural heritage. UNESCO and other organizations encourage people to learn more about their cultural heritage and value the need to conserve it for future generations. If you are interested in learning more about protecting your own cultural heritage, there are many resources available on the internet that can provide information and tips for how to do so.

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