Cultural heritage is a set of tangible assets that can include buildings, artworks, archives and archaeological sites. It can also be defined as the lifeways of contemporary communities. These resources can be memorialized, promulgated, rediscovered or revised. Among other reasons, they are valuable for economic development and social stability.
The concept of cultural heritage has been with humankind for a very long time. In ancient times, antiquities were often subjected to political appropriation and rededication. Many artifacts were looted, sold on the international market, or smuggled for personal use. During times of war, a great many works of art were damaged or destroyed.
In Europe, mass atrocities were often accompanied by cultural genocide. In the early twentieth century, cultural identity became a key target. Napoleon suppressed churches and monasteries, and looted thousands of works of art. Several works were saved in the Louvre Museum. Other works were returned, but remained unsold. Throughout history, intentional destruction of cultural heritage has occurred from many different political, ethnic and social conditions.
One of the greatest challenges to the protection of cultural heritage is the fact that it is often taken for granted. There are people who denigrate it for ideological reasons, or who use it to justify harmful practices. Often, this is done by groups like the obscurantists.
A more general approach to the study of cultural heritage is to understand the historical processes that led to the creation of it. Social sciences provide a set of tools to study cultural contexts, including predictive assessments and on-the-ground data collection. They also offer a framework for understanding how heritage is created and shaped. Individuals play an important role in the process.
In recent years, several controversies have arisen regarding the preservation and display of cultural heritage. As a result, several non-governmental programs have been created to safeguard and revitalize it.
UNESCO has ratified a treaty aimed at the protection of intangible cultural heritage. In a number of countries, government ministries of culture have been established to implement conservation and preservation programs. There are also a number of intergovernmental organizations that research the preservation and restoration of cultural property.
The work of naturalists and historians has contributed to the creation of museums and archives. Archaeologists have sometimes been pitted against local populations. However, the work of the former has facilitated the creation of the world’s largest libraries and museums.
Some of the biggest threats to the world’s cultural heritage are climate change, armed conflict and terrorism. These factors endanger the preservation and display of works of art. Often, wars and other traumatic events damage and dislocate works of art, raising the question of where they belong.
In addition, the loss of individual lives can have a devastating impact on cultural heritage. If the source community is no longer able to participate in creating and maintaining their cultural practices, they may not have access to the knowledge and traditions associated with these practices. Additionally, if an individual is no longer able to maintain his or her own heritage, the value of this culture and its contribution to society can be significantly diminished.