What is Cultural Heritage?

cultural heritage

Cultural heritage encompasses a wide range of evidence of human creativity and expression. This includes artefacts, historical monuments and buildings, museums and archaeological sites.

It also includes intangible cultural heritage which consists of traditions, oral history, performing arts, social practices and traditional craftsmanship, representations, rituals and knowledge transmitted from one generation to the next within a community.

Cultural diversity

Culture is the distinctive set of values, principles, norms and beliefs that influence how individuals from a particular region or place think, perceive, behave, interpret and decide on their judgments regarding their world.

It is important for the development of social cohesion and civil society that people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities live together harmoniously. Policies that enable such inclusive interactions provide the foundation for social cohesion, civil society and peace.

Intangible cultural heritage is a crucial element in maintaining cultural diversity. It contributes to intercultural dialogue, fostering mutual respect and growing trust between societies. It is also a key driver of sustainable development.


Objects are one of the most tangible expressions of culture. They can range from small artifacts like pottery, coins, and paintings to larger buildings, monuments and historic places.

These are preserved in museums and art galleries to be studied by future generations. They also help people understand the past and validate their own memories.

But, the value that these objects have in different societies is not a fixed concept. It can vary depending on the artist, the community and the context in which it was created.

For example, a New Zealand Maori cloak is considered highly sacred and carries an inherent power to its owner. However, a museum replica of the same mask would not have the same effect, because it has been separated from its original originating community for some time. In such cases, the preservation and respecting of cultural protocols are crucial to ensure that both communities remain linked. These protocols require cooperation between law enforcement authorities and cultural heritage professionals.


Cultural heritage is a term used to describe the traditional, customary beliefs, knowledge and practices that communities, groups, or individuals value. This includes oral history, performing arts, traditional craftsmanship, representations, rituals, and the knowledge and skills passed from one generation to another within a community.

Throughout history, cultural heritage has often been a target during periods of pronounced power asymmetries. This is especially true when a society becomes divided into opposing groups.

Intergroup identity dynamics are a complex dynamic of social interaction that is closely linked with the development of specific norms and social-identity manifestations that serve as tools of group legitimization (Foucault 1978; Bourdieu 1977).

During conflict, these identities become salient and mobilizized. This leads to a dual “positive we, negative they” perception in which in-group members are more likely to be protective of their own interests and loyal to the group and out-group members are more vulnerable to dehumanization and discrimination.


Cultural heritage is the legacy of sites, things and practices a society regards as old, important and worthy of conservation. It includes tangible and intangible elements that are inherited through the generations, such as traditions, beliefs, rites and rituals, traditional knowledge and customs, arts and crafts, food, sports, calendars, and traditional clothing.

Values of cultural heritage are associated with in-group identities, social status and relations with out-groups (defined as other groups). They help in-groups justify their claims or current position in relation to out-group(s), increase in-group self-esteem, shape the in-group image (internally and externally), and preserve or challenge existing power structures.

Groups in power also use values of cultural heritage to validate violence against out-groups. This can result in discrimination or denial of resources and power, territory, access to the means of survival, and rights to exist (Korostelina 2015).

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