Cultural heritage is a collection of people’s beliefs, customs, arts and languages. It is a way of life that gives people a sense of belonging and a tie to the past.
The term cultural heritage also encompasses the natural environment, including flora and fauna, scientifically known as biodiversity. These are important to a country’s economy and are often an attraction for tourists.
Cultural heritage is the accumulated knowledge and cultural values of a group or nation. It includes monuments, buildings, artifacts and landscapes which are preserved to safeguard them for future generations.
It is an important part of human history, as it gives us a concrete basis for understanding the way humans have lived in the past. It is also connected to a sense of identity and social standing for people.
The selection of which monuments and objects are preserved to preserve the culture of a particular society determines what is included in the future cultural narratives and societal consensus. This selection also sets the future trajectory for human behavior and interactions with nature.
Intangible heritage is the expression of the ways of life that have developed by a community and are passed down from generation to generation, including customs, traditions, art, values, places and objects. These traces of history are often referred to as cultural heritage.
UNESCO defines tangible cultural heritage as “the products of human creativity produced, maintained and transmitted through time in the society in which they are found, which have been invested with an element of culture” (UNESCO 2003). This includes artistic creations, built heritage such as buildings and monuments, and other physical or tangible products of human creativity that are invested with cultural significance in a society.
Intangible cultural heritage includes “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their Cultural Heritage” (UNESCO 2003). However, while social aspects are also mentioned in national policies for the conservation of cultural heritage, it is not always clear whether they are also dealt with in conservation.
Cultural heritage is a way of living that a community has inherited from previous generations and passes on to the next. It includes customs, practices, places, objects and artistic expressions, as well as values.
It may also include stories of traditional myths and legends, a unique school culture or distinctive dining traditions. It can also include the design of things that have become representative of a time and place and craftsmanship such as a luthier who produces string instruments according to longstanding traditions.
It can be difficult to define a cultural heritage since it encompasses so many aspects of human creativity and expression, such as artifacts, monuments and sites, but also towns, underwater cultural heritage, natural landscapes. This is where UNESCO came into play when they organised a convention for the protection of world cultural and natural heritage in 1971.
A society’s cultural heritage is the inherited physical artifacts and social customs which shape people’s lives. These may include works of art, music, literature and archaeological or historical objects.
These can be linked to intangible cultural heritage (ICH) that includes traditional knowledge, such as astronomical or meteorological knowledge that helps predict weather patterns, or ancestral food and water management practices that can help communities withstand extreme climate change.
The concept of ‘cultural heritage’ is politically constructed, involving notions of ownership and reflecting social and economic systems of value and cultural politics, including human rights. These are important considerations in the debate on cultural rights, which must be taken into account when devising new mechanisms for safeguarding and protecting both tangible and intangible cultural heritage from unprecedented threats.
Historical cultural heritage includes artifacts such as paintings, drawings, prints, mosaics, sculptures, buildings and archaeological sites. It also encompasses intangible elements, such as traditions, oral history, performing arts, social practices, traditional craftsmanship and representations.
It can be a catalyst for visionary urban planning, local economic development, intercultural dialogue, reform of education systems and social inclusion. It can also help preserve and protect natural sites (including flora and fauna) that have cultural significance. However, it can be threatened by a number of factors, including armed conflict, earthquakes, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and tourism development. In many cases, these threats can be addressed through UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. This is a global monitoring system that alerts the international community of properties which are at risk and encourages corrective action.