What Is Cultural Heritage?

cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is a broad term that encompasses many facets of society. These facets may be tangible or intangible.

This heritage is embodied in the people and can be passed down from generation to generation. It is a vital source of identity and pride.

Attempts to bring more rigor to the estimation of the values associated with cultural heritage can be helpful in making policy decisions.

Cultural Identity

For many people, cultural heritage represents their sense of family, community, and history. They celebrate traditions they’ve inherited—and may create new ones to pass on to the next generation. Cultural heritage can include anything from heirlooms to religious practice.

Cultural heritage also includes the way that a society communicates its values and beliefs. This can involve art, language, rituals, and even the food people eat. Artists, architects, and writers often draw on styles that are unique to their cultural group—think of the influence of Japanese prints on Paul Gauguin or African masks on Pablo Picasso’s works.

Intangible cultural heritage plays an important role in the lives of communities, including sustaining social cohesion, building resilience to natural disasters, and managing natural resources. UNESCO has long been a leader in recognizing and safeguarding this type of heritage.

Cultural Transmission

Cultural heritage may consist of a range of items and activities, such as art or architecture, music, dance, stories and traditions that represent a culture. In addition, it can also include intangible aspects of a culture, such as languages or beliefs.

Cultural transmission is the process by which a culture is developed, interpreted and passed on to future generations. It is a key component of cultural heritage and is usually accompanied by some level of preservation.

While experimental studies on learning and retaining socially transmitted information in humans have increased (Bandura 1977), such experiments are typically restricted to a single model and one learner. In order to better understand how broader cultural patterns and trends might be established, experimental designs that incorporate multiple models and learners are needed.

The debate about heritage and the ways it is used often revolves around a tension between universalism and cultural specificity. Proponents of universalism claim that cultural heritage is a shared human property and thus that all cultures have an equal right to it.

Cultural Property

The concept of cultural property is central to the international system of legal instruments designed to protect heritage from deliberate destruction or distortion during armed conflict. The concept is also important to a wider debate about the role of culture in the global political order, and the importance of culturally sensitive and transparent policies for heritage protection.

A broad range of artifacts and cultural sites are considered part of a nation’s cultural heritage, and are therefore protected by the conventions on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO 1970) and the Recommendation and Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO 1972). These treaties define cultural property as works of man or combined with natural objects, and certain precisely delineated natural sites of outstanding universal value, such as ruins, archaeological sites and places of pilgrimage.

Normative mechanisms are arrangements embedded within treaties, such as international monitoring and reporting systems, that support the enforcement of the law. These arrangements do not regulate the conduct of hostilities or impose domestic policy obligations as such, but rather serve to limit foreseen challenges to compliance with the relevant treaty provisions.

Cultural Value

As the world becomes more interconnected, people are curious about cultural heritage from other parts of the globe. This can be a driving force for preserving monuments, languages, traditions and other tangible and intangible heritage. It can also be a driver for tourism, which creates economic benefits that can help fund the preservation of cultural heritage.

The way we use cultural heritage also has a lot to do with its value. For example, archaeological experts are exploring new ways to convey historical information to nonspecialists through artistic expression and other media. Archaeological specialists want to move away from utilitarian explanations and the assumptions that a centralized authority controls the dissemination of their work.

Another issue is the tension between universalism and cultural specificity regarding access to, permissions for the use of and ownership of cultural heritage. For instance, some advocates push for the free flow of knowledge, while others argue that certain cultural groups have special claims regarding their heritage and deserve restrictions in order to protect them from exploitation.

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