What Is Cultural Heritage?

Cultural heritage includes physical artifacts and intangible attributes of society that are cherished by its members. It encompasses practices, representations, expressions and knowledge – as well as places and historic sites of outstanding universal value.

Benign neglect, destructive accidents and natural disasters threaten our ability to preserve cultural heritage. The economic valuation of its use value demands greater rigour.

Sense of Community

Across the nation, cultural heritage organizations serve communities of every kind—urban and rural; city, town, and county; ethnic and religious groups; long-standing and newer immigrant commu- nities. Moreover, cultural heritage activities also appear in organizations outside the cultural sector, including educational institutions like colleges and ethnic studies institutes; human services, community improvement and capacity-building, and religion-related organizations, and even international agencies (table 3).

Intangible cultural heritage includes practices, beliefs, traditions, and knowledge that are passed from generation to generation and that reflect a cultural group’s values and history. Examples include art forms, a language, the architecture of a village or building, a type of cuisine, or a way of making music. These can be central to a community’s identity and are often celebrated in festivals or at pageants or holiday celebrations. They are also incorporated into a community’s responses to global risks such as benign neglect, natural disasters, or climate change. Cultural heritage provides a sense of belonging and a link to an individual’s ancestors.


Cultural heritage is a part of one’s identity that can help shape it and provides a sense of belonging to a society. It can be found in a country’s history, its language, ethnicity and traditions – both folk and those that are based on religion.

It also includes important historic sites and monuments, and museums containing works of art that have an historical, artistic, scientific or ethnological value. It can also include tangible and intangible heritage assets such as landscapes, traditional practices, beliefs and knowledge, cultural values and spirituality.

The concept of cultural heritage is evolving as societies change. It is no longer just about artifacts and archaeological sites but a whole lot more including towns, underwater heritage, as well as the natural environment. However, it can be a difficult subject to study as there are many perspectives to consider. These issues can include the relation of heritage to tourism, nostalgia and dissonance, contested history and conflicting narratives, censorship, heritage and power, culture and identity.


Heritage is not just something material to be preserved, but it also provides a range of values. These values include meeting needs, providing social structures and fostering identity, preserving knowledge of the past, enhancing community welfare and strengthening society.

This is what makes cultural heritage so important for people and communities to protect and care for. Cultural heritage includes tangible and intangible objects, buildings, places, ideas, rites and rituals, traditions, indigenous knowledge, social customs, linguistics, art, religion, history, music, food and drink, sports, technology and cybercultures.

As a result, the cultural heritage of a community is protected and nurtured when individuals enjoy, understand, value and care about it. Heritage organizations play an essential role in fostering these cultural activities and sharing these traditions with the public. This is especially true for minority groups and those in urban and rural areas that have been underserved by mainstream cultural organizations. Consequently, they provide a unique and invaluable cultural heritage service.


In a world where families move, immigrants settle and towns are transformed by economic shifts, cultural heritage can help people find a sense of community. And it can serve as a source of economic development. Cultural heritage attractions, collections and practices generate significant secondary economic activities like artisanal and design, fashion, performing arts, and culinary industries.

Cultural heritage organizations promote a broad range of programs, including educational and research activities. These organizations often partner with other types of community organizations to offer a broader array of cultural heritage offerings, and they tend to have multifaceted organizational structures.

Preservation of objects can help bring human history to life, as evidenced by the arduous work of antiquarians, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and archivists. In addition, the presence of preserved objects validates memories and ideas about the past. This may be a big reason why museums, art galleries, and libraries seek to acquire a broad range of objects and document historical events.

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