Cultural heritage consists of physical artifacts, intangible attributes and cultural sites that have been identified by a society as having a specific value to them. These values may be historical, architectural, commemorative, aesthetic or ethnological. Cultural heritage may be a source of pride and identity for communities, which helps to connect people and to give them a sense of belonging and continuity in their lives. It is a major contributor to tourism and provides many benefits for societies, regions and individuals. It is the duty of every individual and community to protect and promote its cultural heritage and ensure that it is preserved for future generations.
UNESCO defines cultural heritage as “a shared legacy of all humankind which includes tangible and intangible expressions of culture, such as buildings, monuments, works of art, inscriptions and archaeological structures, cave dwellings, traditional villages and other settlements, and landscapes” (UNESCO 1972: Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Heritage). The preservation of cultural heritage is important for the development of local identities, and for providing people with a link to their past, making it easier to understand the present and imagine the future. It is also a fundamental element of sustainable development and social cohesion, as it contributes to the economy by providing employment in the heritage sector, promoting tourism, and fostering socio-economic and environmental regeneration.
The protection of cultural heritage is a global issue that requires a multidisciplinary approach. It involves the work of anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, geographers, architects, chemists, conservation scientists, geologists and hydrologists, engineers, naturalists, geomorphologists, hydrologists and hydrologist, palaeontologists, and physicists. These disciplines need to work together, and with other specialists, such as zoologists and botanists, to safeguard the physical aspects of heritage. In the case of intangible heritage, folklorists, artists, linguists, and cultural managers may play a crucial role in developing programs to preserve it.
A key challenge is the fight against illicit trafficking and pillaging of cultural heritage items, which often leads to the destruction of a country’s history. This is why it is so important that UNESCO has adopted international conventions on the protection of cultural heritage. Moreover, climate change and the rapid growth of tourism are also serious threats to cultural heritage, with the risk of them being damaged or even destroyed.
Despite these challenges, research on cultural heritage has developed rapidly in the last century and continues to grow. A good number of researchers are exploring a wide range of topics, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on heritage sites, cultural tourism and cultural memory, heritage impacts on indigenous knowledge and data sovereignty, censorship and the repatriation of heritage items. In addition to the aforementioned keywords, researchers are also interested in issues such as ‘knowledge and development’, ‘underwater cultural heritage’, ‘cultural expression’ and ‘understanding identity through traditional knowledge’. The first five most popular research areas in terms of collaboration with humanities are shown in table 3.