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Cultural Heritage

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Cultural heritage refers to the physical and intangible attributes of a society that are passed on to future generations. It may include monuments, buildings, art, artifacts, landscapes, and other tangible objects. It also includes a society’s history, traditions, beliefs, values and customs, and social or aesthetic characteristics. It is a broad concept that encompasses many different aspects of culture, and thus it can be difficult to define.

UNESCO is best known for its list of World Heritage Sites, but it has been cataloguing the intangible heritage of humanity for two decades as well. There are now more than seven hundred “elements” on its list, from Mongolian herders coaxing orphaned calves by serenading them at twilight to capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that combines dance and gymnastics with music and poetry.

The emergence of the concept of cultural heritage has been driven by an understanding that the cultural heritage of a community, or even of the entire human species, is in danger of disappearing. This threat is not just due to the destruction of artifacts, but also to the gradual erosion of the social and economic structures that support cultural heritage.

This has led to the emergence of a wide range of issues concerning cultural heritage, such as contested history and conflicting narratives, cultural imperialism, repatriation of heritage property, cultural appropriation, the role of museums in representing cultural heritage, the value of cultural property compared with its economic worth, and the relationship between cultural heritage and identity, among others.

A number of different approaches exist to protecting cultural heritage, from the traditional premise that it is intangible and thus inherently valuable to the more modern idea that it is an important part of a people’s sense of self, and therefore worthy of preservation. Regardless of which approach is used, a key challenge in preserving cultural heritage is that of ensuring that it reflects the full range of a community’s culture and that all members of that community are actively involved in its identification, appreciation, maintenance and safeguarding.

For example, when a museum exhibits traditional costumes from a region, it must ensure that the local women who wear them feel included in the exhibition and that they are comfortable in viewing themselves as culturally significant. Similarly, a school that preserves and teaches its traditional music must make sure that all students from a community can enjoy it. For a comprehensive and interactive overview of the many issues concerning cultural heritage, visit Transkribus’s Cultural Heritage Issues page. Here you will find articles that identify the main issues in this area, as well as personal thoughts from readers on these topics. You can also comment on these articles to contribute your own views.