Matagorda County Museum Our Blog The Complexity of Cultural Heritage

The Complexity of Cultural Heritage

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Often defined as “the cultural features of a society, such as customs and practices, arts, beliefs, languages, folklore, traditions, cuisine, etc.”[1] Cultural heritage is a crucial part of humankind’s identity. It helps build a sense of belonging, promotes social cohesion, and encourages mutual understanding between different cultures. In today’s world, cultural heritage has become one of the most important global industries and a major source of economic benefits for countries, regions, and local communities. Nevertheless, despite the huge benefits that it brings, little attention and investment are usually given to cultural heritage preservation and practice activities.

This is partly due to the fact that heritage is a highly subjective concept, which means that what an official body such as a government, museum, or scholarly organization designates as cultural heritage can vary greatly depending on political, economic, religious, and social factors and pressures. It also depends on how the individual perceives and defines their own culture and history: it may differ from generation to generation, or it can change over time in response to changes in the environment.

In addition, the underlying meaning of a relic is influenced by its context and the way in which it was used at a particular time. This is particularly relevant in the case of historical objects, where the perception of the relic has been shaped by events and debates over the years. Hence, how someone perceives an artefact will often depend on their knowledge of that historical period and their position within contemporary debates such as those surrounding decolonisation of museums’ collections or repatriation of colonial loot.

The broader implications of this issue can be seen in the illegal trade of heritage, which is currently worth billions and poses a serious threat to sustainable development principles, tourism management, transparency values, and human rights (Mackenzie and Yates 2016). The global problem is complicated by the fact that this illicit activity takes place at multiple levels: from the black market for archaeological treasures to the legal and financial networks involved in the acquisition and smuggling of cultural property.

Therefore, it is essential to understand the complexity of the issues surrounding heritage in order to make informed decisions on how to best protect and enhance cultural assets for both the public and private sector. The main challenges that should be considered are: