What Is Cultural Heritage?

cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is a vital expression of the culture that makes up unique communities. It’s also a source of identity for people around the world and its loss during conflict and disaster is catastrophic.

Cultural heritage consists of both physical artifacts and intangible attributes that characterize a society. It comprises traditions, oral history, performing arts, social practices, traditional craftsmanship, representations and rituals.

What is cultural heritage?

When thinking about cultural heritage, many people think of paintings, prints and sculptures, historical monuments and buildings or archaeological sites. However, it is much more than that. Cultural heritage also includes movable and immovable physical artefacts (such as costumes, tools, machinery, books and manuscripts), and even underwater cultural heritage such as shipwrecks.

Intangible cultural heritage consists of traditions, oral history, performing arts, social practices, representations, rituals and knowledge passed on from one generation to the next within a community. Examples include tango and flamenco dancing, falconry, Viennese coffee house culture, the Mediterranean diet, Azerbaijani rug weaving traditions, kabuki theatre, Vedic chanting and polyphonic singing among others.

The concept of cultural heritage is based on historically changing values recognized by various societies and groups. As such, it is not universally recognized and the definition of what constitutes a nation’s cultural heritage is not immune to political, economic, religious or social pressures. These pressures can lead to contested histories and conflicting narratives, issues of inclusion versus exclusion, cultural imperialism and cultural appropriation.

What is intangible heritage?

The intangible heritage category encompasses a wide range of activities: traditional craftsmanship, oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, rituals and festive events, and knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe. Its ubiquity makes it the most contentious, with nations regularly bickering over the status of a particular element or practice. Iran and Azerbaijan, for example, quarrel over polo; Russia and Ukraine fight over borscht.

UNESCO’s embrace of the intangible began as a correction to its monumental bias, with complaints that campaigns to preserve historic structures like flood-damaged Venetian palazzos and ancient Egyptian temples were unfairly sidelining societies that had less tangible treasures. Unlike the sites that make up the World Heritage List, which must prove their “outstanding universal value,” intangible heritage is defined by communities and groups who recognize it as theirs. It is thus a more capacious, non-hierarchical category.

What is tangible heritage?

When we think of cultural heritage, it’s natural to imagine artworks such as paintings, sculptures and mosaics, architectural structures such as monuments and buildings, archaeological sites and other historical objects. However, this is only part of the picture.

The concept of cultural heritage has been enriched over the centuries and nowadays includes also intangible aspects of culture. In fact, cultural heritage is made up of practices, expressions, representations and knowledge – as well as the instruments, objects and artefacts relating to them – that have been passed down through generations within a specific community.

Moreover, it is important to recognize that cultural heritage encompasses both tangible and intangible elements, and is closely interlinked with natural and built heritage. Therefore, preserving and protecting it requires an integrated approach. Furthermore, we should also be aware that cultural heritage can be defined differently by different individuals and institutions. The concept of heritage is also a dynamic one and it changes according to the context in which it is developed.

What is the definition of cultural heritage?

Cultural heritage is the physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a society that have been passed down through generations. It is a subject of increasing attention worldwide as societies seek to understand its importance and preserve it for future generations.

It includes the physical heritage of buildings and monuments, art museums and galleries, archaeological sites, as well as the natural heritage of a country including its flora and fauna, scientifically known as biodiversity. It can also encompass cultural landscapes, the traditional use of land and sea, folklore, oral history, traditional music and dance, and social customs and traditions, beliefs and philosophies.

People’s individual attachments to their cultural heritage are complex and varied, depending on their history, values, and perception of a certain object or activity. What may be considered a part of culture in one place or time period, could not be seen as such in another. This can create a conflict when it comes to protecting cultural heritage.

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