Cultural heritage is a complex concept that encompasses a wide range of material objects and immaterial practices. These include paintings and drawings, historic buildings, museums, and a range of cultural sites. It also includes towns, intangible heritage, and the natural environment.
The conceptual assumptions that frame debates about heritage have profound moral implications. For example, the focus on official heritage impedes recognition of people’s personal attachments to history.
Cultural heritage is a set of traditions
Cultural heritage consists of tangible and intangible attributes of a group or society that are passed down from the past. This includes the enduring value of physical artifacts and also social practices, traditional craftsmanship, representations, rituals, and knowledge. UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list includes such traditions as the human towers of Tarragona, Spain, cham pottery in Northern Albania, and Haiti’s pumpkin soup known as “Soup Joumou.”
The concept of cultural heritage has evolved through historical development and different values are recognized by different groups of people. This concept has been used as a basis for international treaties and national laws to protect cultural heritage objects.
Nonprofit organizations devoted to ethnic and folk arts are the most prominent providers of cultural heritage programming. They are often sponsored by education, religion, and community improvement and capacity-building subsectors (table 2). However, these organizations do not always have a clear definition of their heritage programming. They may also have a limited budget.
It is a way of life
Heritage is an integral part of the identity and wellbeing of individuals, communities and societies. Blue Shield’s work is based on the belief that cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, should be protected from loss during conflicts and disasters. However, this view may be problematic if it implies that there is a single universal culture, and a single bounded cultural identity to protect. The assumption of a single culture as the object of cultural preservation and protection can fuel nationalistic movements and chauvinistic grass-root organisations.
The impulse to document, preserve and study a particular culture has resulted in the establishment of great libraries, museums, archivists and scholarly disciplines such as history, archaeology, philology, museology, and art and architecture. But what is a culture, and how can it be defined? This question confronts a range of evaluative concerns, including questions about the legitimacy of cultural property claims by contemporary nations. It also raises issues about the nature of historical continuity.
It is a way of thinking
The way we think about cultural heritage affects the way we treat it. It also influences how we engage with moral controversies and questions. For example, if cultural heritage is seen as a common property to be cared for and enjoyed by all, it might not be a good idea to prioritize ownership rights over its preservation. However, this shift to a “stewardship” model is not without its critics.
A key theme in discussions of heritage ethics concerns a tension between universalism and cultural specificity. On the one hand, there is a pull to conceive of cultural heritage as universally valuable, grounding consequent rights or permissions for all concerning its use and possession. On the other hand, there is a push to recognize the special claims of particular groups over their own heritage. These issues are highlighted by the destruction of cultural heritage in armed conflict and natural disaster, as well as by social persecution, including terrorism and xenophobia.
It is a way of being
Cultural heritage is an important way of life and a vital part of human society. It provides an identity for individuals and communities, and contributes to economic development. Its preservation and promotion generate jobs in the heritage industry. In addition, it stimulates other economic activities such as artisanal, design, and fashion businesses. It also promotes tourism.
The protection of cultural heritage is a complex issue, especially when it involves intangible culture. Intangible cultural heritage includes stories, songs, styles, motifs, and practices that are rooted in the culture of a particular group or society. These elements can be difficult to protect because they aren’t physical objects and don’t fit the traditional concept of property rights.
Moreover, they can be endangered by social persecution and armed conflict. These threats have led to the proliferation of international institutions and non-governmental organizations that promote cultural heritage. They include government ministries of culture, museums, libraries, and archives as well as UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, and the Getty Foundation.