A person’s cultural heritage is the product of their history, traditions, and beliefs. It includes everything from language to art and craft to religion and beliefs. Cultural heritage also includes the environment, and its protection is essential to preserve the past and future. Cultural heritage programs and projects are run by government ministries of culture around the world, as well as by NGOs such as the World Monuments Fund and the International Council of Museums. In fact, there are over a thousand cultural heritage programs worldwide.
While some appropriation is harmful and offensive, Young argues that some is permissible because it is justified by countervailing considerations. These considerations include the group’s right to expression, the time and place of the appropriation, and the extent to which members of the group are influenced by it. This article explores the issues raised by these arguments in a discussion of cultural appropriation. For example, a recent case study of contemporary First Nations artists shows that appropriation can sometimes be productive.
While there are many examples of cultural crimes and erasures of history, some are particularly horrific. In Timbuktu, Islamic State forces burned down historic manuscripts and the Taliban destroyed ancient treasures. These crimes are not unique to the Islamic State, but the Chinese government has also been responsible for several cultural crimes. As a result, governments are often reluctant to recognize the importance of cultural heritage. In this case, the destruction of cultural heritage is a form of war on civilization itself.
To combat the destruction of cultural heritage, many organizations have formed the Blue Shield International (BSIC) to protect cultural heritage in emergency situations. The organization works to protect the world’s cultural heritage from natural disasters and armed conflict. Additionally, the organization helps protect significant natural areas. In addition, the organization also supports far-reaching education and research efforts to preserve cultural heritage. Its mission includes developing and implementing sustainable policies to prevent future conflicts and ensure the protection of cultural heritage.
Another common challenge for museums is the ethical issues surrounding the display of cultural heritage. Western art institutions have traditionally viewed non-Western artworks differently, often relegating them to anthropological museums or removing them from their cultural contexts in modern art museums. This issue is called cultural appropriation and has been discussed in section 4 of this course. Museums can also face legal challenges for misrepresenting non-Western cultures or neglecting to involve members of the culture in the decision-making process.
Those who support a cultural internationalist view of cultural heritage claim that all cultures contribute to the common human culture. These individuals typically identify themselves as “cosmopolitans” and argue against nationalist restrictions on cultural heritage. They also object to many claims regarding repatriation. They cite various aspects of international law to support their stance, such as the Hague Convention of 1954 and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. This approach has also been criticized by nationalists.