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Cultural Heritage for Development


cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is the set of physical artifacts and intangible attributes that make up a society’s collective identity. It includes not only art, monuments, and towns but also a range of less visible elements: the dances, music, and languages that define a culture, its history, and its people.

In addition to being one of the world’s most important industries, heritage is a vital component in the economic development of cities and regions, as well as a social identity factor contributing to local cohesion. Heritage is thus of immense importance for humanity and should be protected from destruction or neglect. However, it is often difficult to determine what constitutes cultural heritage and what are the best ways to protect it.

The definition of what is considered as cultural heritage varies according to many factors, such as the values of the individuals involved and the political or economic contexts in which they operate. This can lead to conflicting interests between different groups and societies, and the preservation of some elements of culture might not be acceptable for others.

As a consequence, the protection of cultural heritage is a complex issue that requires a holistic approach. In the meantime, there is a growing interest in using heritage for development and promoting the role of culture as an instrument to promote peace and international cooperation. This paper explores the challenges and opportunities of leveraging cultural heritage for development, with a specific focus on the implementation of cultural heritage for development projects in three lower-middle income countries of the MENA region funded by the MDG Achievement Fund (MDG-F).

While there are some similarities between the issues at stake in preserving physical and intangible cultural heritage, the latter presents an additional challenge that has not yet been addressed in depth. The concept of intangible heritage debuted in the early eighties, progressively replacing the term “folklore,” as UNESCO adopted a more inclusive definition that included not only traditions but also languages, modes of living, and spiritual beliefs. However, unlike tangible heritage such as obelisks or palaces, living traditions are not easily conserved: they cannot be sealed in a museum and preserved like objects; instead, they must remain connected to their social and ecological networks.

This raises questions of ownership and value, since the value of a tradition is not attached to an object but to its recognition by society. Therefore, it is essential to recognize the fact that contested histories are part of the cultural heritage landscape and to consider them when deciding how to collect, describe, preserve, showcase and present documentary cultural heritage. If heritage institutions fail to do so, they risk perpetuating the legacy of a colonial past and alienating local communities. For this reason, it is essential to include cultural heritage in information literacy programs and to teach learners to assess the value of a particular document or artwork based on its historical context. It is also crucial to recognize that values are not fixed, but regenerated by individual perceptions of heritage that are constantly changing in the light of new experiences and perspectives.