The Concept of Cultural Heritage

cultural heritage

Cultural heritage refers to art, buildings, monuments and archaeological sites, historic cities, and literature. It also includes traditional music and knowledge.

Some argue that cultural heritage belongs to all of humanity. This view is known as cultural internationalism. It is a powerful argument against nationalist restrictions on the movement of cultural objects and against repatriation claims.


Cultural heritage includes the buildings, objects and practices that a society regards as important enough to conserve. It encompasses both tangible and intangible cultural assets and is a key component of a society’s sense of identity and self-esteem. The purposeful destruction of cultural heritage by nonstate armed groups, militias, despotic governments or invading armies amounts to a form of social and cultural genocide.

Moreover, preservation of cultural heritage requires considerable financial investment. This has to be justified against competing claims on government budgets such as healthcare, education or infrastructure.

Recent research suggests that there are a number of benefits to preserving cultural heritage, including tourism and the sense of community and connection people feel to a place. However, the exact value of these attributes has been difficult to quantify. This chapter introduces methods, such as revealed and stated preference techniques, that bring more rigor to the estimation of the economic value of cultural heritage. This allows for a more informed decision-making process.


The concept of cultural heritage emerged from a process of historical development. It grew from the idea that certain monuments, buildings, works of art and natural environments have a special value, regardless of their owner. This is the idea behind patrimony, which in the Latin language refers to a group of monuments that constitute the collective heritage of a nation.

These objects, buildings and natural landscapes are preserved for the sake of posterity and the benefit of humanity. They also contribute to a sense of identity and belonging. This is why they are protected by various international treaties and conventions.

But even though the concept of cultural heritage is relatively new, it has already acquired a number of different shades and meanings. This is demonstrated, among other things, by the different terminologies used in international legal instruments. It is therefore important to understand these differences and explore their roots. This will help in the proper interpretation of the legal instruments and norms that deal with the protection of cultural heritage.


Many of the problems surrounding heritage involve the meanings associated with a particular set of cultural artifacts and traditions. The meanings may be derived from their historic, artistic, aesthetic or ethnological or anthropological value. The meanings may also be derived from their association with particular historical events or by the fact that they are viewed as having a sacred or religious significance.

The meanings of heritage also engender ethical issues. Deliberate destruction or distorted, ahistoric interpretations of heritage values and objects can be found throughout the world, motivated by diverse ideologies, political movements and religious beliefs.

Other ethical issues are concerned with the appropriation and mobilization of resources to preserve cultural heritage. For example, the need for preservation raises questions about how much should be spent on heritage assets in poor countries that must make competing claims for investment on other priorities such as education, health and infrastructure. It raises further questions about the responsibility of different social actors, public and private, national and international, towards investment in heritage.


A key reason for preserving cultural heritage is to ensure that future generations have their own sense of identity. This includes a set of values, beliefs, customs, and traditions passed down through the years. It also includes a physical legacy like art and architecture, monuments, and historical places.

However, the value of these heritage sites is not always reflected in market prices. This chapter explores how stated preference methods can be used to estimate the value of nontraded, immovable cultural heritage.

Increasingly, archaeological information and objects inspire artistic expressions in forms including two-dimensional paintings and popular history writing. These interpretive formats help communicate the past to a broad audience of nonspecialists. They can complement more technical interpretations and can provide cognitive imagery that helps to convey complex archaeological concepts.

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