The Importance of Cultural Heritage

In an increasingly interconnected world, family heirlooms and historical homes, county fairs and folklife programs help communities to build and sustain a sense of community. Nonprofit cultural heritage organizations serve towns and cities, rural areas, and immigrant communities throughout the United States.

What a society considers its cultural heritage can change over time, depending on political or economic pressures, war and conflict, privilege/marginalization, or individual identity.

What is cultural heritage?

Cultural heritage is the sites, objects, artifacts and traditions that a society regards as important enough to preserve and pass on to future generations. This includes tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

What a culture considers its cultural heritage will change over time depending on political, economic and social factors as well as on individual preferences and experiences. This makes it challenging to find a single, universal definition for what constitutes a cultural heritage object.

Intangible cultural heritage consists of traditions, oral history and performing arts, social practices, traditional craftsmanship and representations as well as knowledge and skills that are transmitted within a society. It can include a dizzying array of things such as tango and flamenco, Viennese coffee house culture, Chinese shadow puppetry, Vedic chanting, Kabuki theatre or the polyphonic singing of the Aka of Central Africa.

What is tangible cultural heritage?

Tangible cultural heritage includes sites, buildings, monuments and artifacts that tell a particular culture’s story. It includes things that can be physically touched such as a possum-skin cloak made “on Country” in 2017 with designs painted on it to represent key creation stories of a family group living in, and connected to, a certain area of Country in Victoria.

Intangible cultural heritage is defined by the UNESCO Convention as ‘practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills – as well as instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated with them’. It is harder to define than tangible heritage but can encompass everything from the traditional Day of the Dead in Mexico to tango dance and music, flamenco and kimchi-making. It can also include natural elements such as the sounds of a river eroding its surrounding rocks or the smell of a pine forest. The deterioration or disappearance of any intangible natural heritage can have a harmful impact on the entire world’s cultural diversity (WHC: 1972). It is therefore important to protect it through cultural heritage conservation.

What is intangible cultural heritage?

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) refers to ‘practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills – including the means of their transmission – that individuals or groups recognize as part of their culture’ (UNESCO, 2003). Unlike tangible heritage, intangible cultural heritage is not frozen in time. It is dynamic, adapted to new social contexts and environments. It reflects the history of societies and communities, but it also provides them with an identity that gives them continuity.

UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) allows countries to submit items for inclusion on its lists. When an element is inscribed on the list, it becomes visible to the public and protected against decontextualization and appropriation.

UNESCO’s ICH projects promote and facilitate the identification, creation, production, promotion and preservation of living traditions. These practices are often threatened with disappearance. Examples include Chinese tea processes, masked dance dramas from Korea, Algerian folk songs and France’s baguette. ICH projects also help establish networks of practitioners and stakeholders.

What is sustaining cultural heritage?

People’s personal attachment to cultural heritage is a complex issue. What one institution, government or museum considers cultural heritage, may not be considered such by another, and it can also depend on factors like education, socioeconomic status, privilege/marginalisation, etc.

Moreover, the definition of heritage is not static: it is based on historically changing value systems. The concept of heritage combines a variety of values, and different concepts are combined to create distinct categories of heritage.

As such, cultural heritage is always in flux and it’s important to preserve it for future generations. It can be threatened by natural deterioration and climate change, unsustainable tourism and the use of heritage materials for commercial purposes. Preserving historical documents can be especially challenging because they are fragile and require special care and equipment. Using a tool such as Transkribus can make it easier to digitise, transcribe and archive documents and thus preserve them for future generations. This can help to protect them from physical deterioration and digital theft, while ensuring accessibility for researchers and scholars worldwide.

Related Posts