Cultural heritage is an element of human culture that includes tangible objects and intangible elements such as traditions, oral history, performing arts, social practices, traditional craftsmanship, representations, rituals and knowledge and skills transmitted from generation to generation within a community.
People attach many different meanings to these items, ranging from personal attachments (e.g., a person’s childhood memories of their ancestors) to symbolic meanings such as connection to a natural environment or to the past. These personal attachments to these items can vary across cultures and may have been formed as a result of an individual’s upbringing or a society’s cultural values, which can be very diverse.
While a significant amount of research has been done on the physical preservation of cultural heritage, there is less work that focuses on intangible aspects of cultural heritage. This is largely because they are difficult to measure, and the concept of intangible cultural heritage has not been widely developed internationally.
However, it is important to recognize that the observance of intangible cultural heritage can be just as crucial for the protection of cultural heritage and for preserving a sense of identity. Intangible cultural heritage includes a wide range of traditions, including those involving dances, music, food, and language.
Intangible cultural heritage has a unique and vital role to play in promoting social cohesion, especially for the most vulnerable groups of people. It can also help to create a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation, which can be detrimental in many areas of life.
The loss of intangible cultural heritage during conflict and disaster can be devastating. As such, UNESCO is committed to ensuring the safety of intangible cultural heritage.
To this end, UNESCO has established the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This Convention has been ratified by 171 countries and is currently in force. Its objective is to protect traditional cultural expressions that have been passed on from one generation to the next in an effort to preserve their unique value and enduring importance.
For UNESCO, the concept of intangible cultural heritage is particularly important as it reflects the diversity of human societies and represents the innate creativity of the people that make up these communities.
This diversity makes intangible cultural heritage a valuable resource that can be used to promote social, economic and political development, as well as contribute to the preservation of a sense of identity and community.
Moreover, intangible heritage has the potential to inspire future generations of artists and designers, generating new creative products.
Intangible cultural heritage is an increasingly important issue because it can be lost due to natural and manmade factors such as climate change. As a result, there is an increased need to study the impact of climatic stressors on intangible cultural heritage, and develop best practice guidance for its conservation and sustainable management.
UNESCO recognises the importance of protecting and promoting cultural heritage in all its dimensions, but especially through a human rights approach. This can be achieved through the adequacy of national legislation, the implementation of effective legal measures and by establishing a culture of dialogue between all relevant stakeholders. In this regard, UNESCO is working with States and other stakeholders to improve their approach to the protection and promoting of intangible cultural heritage.