What Is Cultural Heritage?

cultural heritage

A cultural heritage is a set of traditions, music, art, knowledge and other things that represent a particular community. It is preserved and promoted by museums, libraries, archives and cultural specialists.

Yet, it is constantly threatened by malign neglect, natural disasters and terrorism. It also suffers from the fact that it is intangible, not tangible.

Physical objects

When people think of cultural heritage, they often picture art (paintings, prints, mosaics and sculptures), historical monuments and buildings, or archaeological sites. But the concept has also come to include towns, cities, industrial and underwater heritage, as well as natural landscapes, which can be a strong source of identity for some communities.

Objects are an important part of the study of cultural history, because they can validate ideas. For example, a Picasso painting may be inspired by Japanese prints or African masks. Similarly, neoclassical homes that were built by former American slaves in Liberia may have been influenced by European architecture.

Cultural heritage organizations are a remarkable resource for their community members, whether they are urban dwellers or rural, immigrant or long-standing citizens. They are often involved in activities outside the realm of traditional cultural sectors, sponsoring programs such as dance performances at colleges and ethnic studies institutes, and music festivals at churches. They offer a way to preserve the culture of a place while it is evolving and connecting with other cultures.

Expressions of culture

Cultural heritage is the tangible and intangible artifacts, places and values a culture has developed over time. This can include a community’s customs and practices, beliefs, language, folklore, cuisine and traditions. It can also encompass a community’s architecture and art.

The expressions of culture can range from the simple tools in a primitive society to the neoclassical buildings of an American plantation. These expressions are unique and cannot be replicated. They are based on people’s experiences and are a form of communication among them.

While many people believe that culture is a source of identity, it also serves as a means to solve problems. For example, the different forms of marriage reflect the way in which societies find ways to solve the problem of raising families. In addition, cultural heritage fulfills a need for belonging. People can feel a sense of connection to their past, which allows them to understand the future. This is why culture has become so important to human beings.

Social structures

Heritage is not just the physical artifacts and traditions of a culture, but also the entire social structure that supports them. It encompasses a variety of things that are a part of the common experience, such as language, cuisine, music, and dance. This cultural heritage is passed down from one generation to the next.

In her 2011 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur stresses that taking a human rights approach to cultural heritage is essential to its preservation. In particular, she recommends recognizing the right to access and enjoyment of cultural heritage.

Many cultural heritage organizations provide community-based programming. Some programs focus on cultural services, while others address broader issues like education and youth development. Generally, these programs are designed to help people connect with the community and their cultural heritage. They can be a powerful force for social change. However, some cultural heritage organizations are under-resourced and struggle to meet the needs of their communities.


Cultural heritage is a dynamic phenomenon, and efforts to save it involve communities as well as government ministries of culture and national museums, archives and libraries. Technical experts in engineering, archaeology, chemistry, conservation, physics, hydrology, agronomy, geology and biology are frequently involved in the preservation of historic sites and artifacts.

The people who comprise a community are equally essential to the development and protection of cultural heritage. Whether it is a local historical society, county fair or festival, a neighborhood cultural and arts center, or a traditional dance group, a community cultural and folk organization promotes and preserves cultural traditions that are important to the people who live with them.

These organizations typically combine program areas that many public and private funders keep separate, such as human services provision, community improvement and capacity building, and cultural heritage programming. This reflects the diverse values and histories of the groups that build and sustain them. These community programs are also the most vulnerable to benign neglect and natural disasters, from earthquakes and fires to climate change.

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