Cultural heritage is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of traditions, customs, and artifacts. The term includes cultural property, historical sites, archaeological sites, and artistic works. It is an asset that can contribute to social stability and economic development. A number of government and non-governmental organizations have developed programs to protect, preserve, and revitalize cultural property.
Cultural heritage is a product of history and the human experience. As with all things, it can be contested, erased, or revised. However, the idea of heritage has been with mankind for a very long time. From the ancient Egyptian pyramids to the medieval monuments of the Middle Ages, people have gathered and preserved these important objects and ideas.
Although the concept of cultural heritage has remained relatively stable, its definition is continually evolving. Some of its most common definitions include: a repository of cultural identities; a material embodiment of an historical, cultural, or spiritual period; or a means of reconciling contemporary people with their past.
A variety of experts, including ethnographers, historians, museum curators, and chemists, contribute to the preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage. Social science helps us understand how to study and assess the factors that affect a particular culture. Educators, community leaders, and local and global benefactors are almost always involved in the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage.
Intentional destruction of cultural heritage is often associated with human rights violations and mass atrocities. These practices have led to the destruction of art and historical buildings, as well as other forms of cultural heritage. Often, these acts are undertaken in conjunction with illicit trafficking and other forms of organized crime.
Intentional destruction of cultural heritage also has a negative impact on the wellbeing of individuals. In addition, the eradication of cultural heritage can result in the emergence of vulnerable religious beliefs. Likewise, the loss of a person’s life can result in the elimination of a large part of an individual’s culture.
In the early twentieth century, cultural heritage was devastated by wars and atrocities against Indigenous populations. During the early Stalin years, the Soviet Union sold art to international markets.
In the post-World War II era, a drive to create new nations from old societies was a driving force. Art was targeted for destruction in places like Cambodia. Other instances of intentional destruction of cultural heritage have occurred in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
Many governmental ministries of culture have established programs to protect, conserve, and restore cultural property. UNESCO has ratified a treaty on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. While these programs are designed to protect and maintain these assets, the goal is also to promote a deeper understanding of human diversity and the benefit of protecting and restoring our shared heritage.
In the United States, Richard Kurin, an anthropology professor and ambassador-at-large for the Smithsonian Institution, has been instrumental in promoting cultural heritage preservation and preservation efforts. He has written six books and co-chairs the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, an intergovernmental group that collaborates with FEMA in order to respond to natural disasters that may damage or destroy the nation’s heritage.