Threats to Cultural Heritage

cultural heritage

Cultural heritage consists of visible and tangible representations of values systems, beliefs and traditions developed by societies over time. It contains both immovable heritage such as historic cities and movable heritage like artifacts.

Preserving heritage is a complex process. It requires cooperation between cultural heritage custodians and those who are skilled in organizing and managing funds.

What is it?

Cultural heritage is the physical and intangible attributes of a community that make it unique and provide a sense of identity and continuity. The term often brings to mind artworks, historical monuments and buildings, archaeological sites, but it also includes museums, libraries, collections of books, manuscripts, and documents. It can also include towns, and underwater heritage, as well as a culture’s intangible characteristics: its beliefs, traditions, music, languages, and even cuisine.

In addition to traditional programming related to art, culture, and history, many cultural heritage organizations prioritize social services, including food, housing, and human rights. They also take into consideration the importance of preserving the local landscape. As a result, their priorities and levels of development are distinct from other public and private organizations. This makes it important to recognize the nuances of their work. They are in a position to support a diverse range of communities, from urban neighborhoods and immigrant populations to rural areas and indigenous peoples.

What is its value?

Heritage is a complex concept that consists of sites, objects and traditions that a society considers worthy of preservation. Its value can vary between groups and individuals. For example, a cultural heritage object may be very precious to an individual but not so valuable to the whole community.

In the current context of globalization and increasing population mobility, it is crucial to understand the role that cultural heritage plays in the sense of identity formation and collective memory. It is also necessary to explore how values of heritage are articulated through the process of preserving, sharing and transmitting it (Fig. 1).

The majority of cultural heritage organizations are small and serve communities with different needs. Many work in urban neighborhoods, rural areas, ethnic and immigrant communities, and with indigenous peoples. The majority of them focus on expressive forms, especially arts, rites of passage and religious practices. They promote the values of their tradi- tions and seek to make them relevant in the contemporary context.

What are the threats?

The threats to heritage are complex and vary according to the circumstances. The most significant dangers are posed by war and natural disaster. Heritage buildings and collections are often damaged as collateral damage, but they may also be targeted by armed forces, such as the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, or looted for money or status.

Religious heritage, which is often a key element of people’s cultural identity, is vulnerable to violence, theft and neglect. Due to its particular architectural features, the maintenance of some religious heritage buildings is especially difficult and costly.

The built cultural landscape is being destroyed as a result of urban development, resource extraction and climate change. Heritage is a global phenomenon, and so it is difficult to act on deep trends through conservation tools or laws alone.

What are the solutions?

Cultural heritage is a crucial component of the way societies tell their own stories about themselves. It is an important aspect of people’s sense of identity, and the destruction of heritage – like the desecration of architectural ruins at Palmyra in Syria by Daesh – can be seen as a form of cultural genocide.

It is a challenge to protect cultural heritage from the threat of war, conflict, and natural disaster. The existing legal framework for protecting cultural property is often inadequate and outdated, and many of the organizations charged with protecting heritage are underfunded.

The solution to these problems lies in a more holistic approach to cultural heritage, one that takes into account both the material objects and the stories they represent, and that is connected with local people’s lives and values. This includes the need to consider cultural heritage when planning for climate change, and to support research on the ways that historic sites have responded to climatic changes in the past.

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