The concept of cultural heritage has been with humankind for centuries, starting with the work of historians and philologists, and continuing with the creation of museums and collections of antiquities and artworks. As time passed, the work of museum curators, archivists, and art collectors became more professional, and the concept of cultural heritage grew. In the post-World War II era, the idea of cultural heritage was spurred by the desire to create new nations from older societies and the emergence of an internationalist world order.
Wars and armed conflict have caused the destruction of many of the world’s cultural heritage sites. This has often been accompanied by a rise in organized looting and illicit trafficking, and has been linked to the persecution of individuals and communities. As such, the destruction of cultural heritage can be a security and war crime. The destruction of underwater cultural heritage is also a major concern.
The destruction of cultural heritage is often a result of extremist ideologies that aim to destroy memory and traditions of minority groups. This is often part of a wider agenda to assimilate and subjugate people of different faiths. As a result, the destruction of cultural heritage has a devastating effect on both human and cultural heritage.
The protection of cultural heritage is necessary to promote sustainable development. Cultural expressions can provide a sense of narrative and agency, allowing individuals to form a coherent sense of identity. In addition, it can have broader benefits, including an increase in the human capacity to express one’s humanity. The protection of cultural heritage helps to promote human rights and cultural freedoms.
In Latin America, cultural heritage is particularly rich. Antiquities were found there centuries ago, but were looted and sold on the international market. Despite this, the language used to classify cultural heritage is often a tool of oppression and erasure. For instance, auction houses often refer to historical objects as being pre-Columbian, referring to the time before Columbus or Spanish culture arrived in the region.
Religion plays a prominent role in cultural expression. In some cultures, religion uses culture to reinforce its own authority. In these cases, cultural expression can hinder religious freedom, as it interferes with the practice of religion. Cultural expression is also an important means of religious education. It is not uncommon for religious institutions to commission art, including stained glass windows in cathedrals.
Protection of cultural heritage is also complicated by politics. Who decides what cultural expression is worthy of protection determines how it is protected. For example, members of one religion enjoy more power than members of another religion, while other religious groups are often marginalized in political circles. As a result, their heritage is less protected.
Cultural heritage is important for all humans, but it can also be a source of conflict. The destruction of cultural heritage often results from war, colonial practices, or looting. It also has monetary value, making it a popular target for collectors, middlemen, and thieves. It can also create social tensions between local populations and archaeologists.