Matagorda County Museum Our Blog What Is Cultural Heritage?

What Is Cultural Heritage?

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Culture is often viewed as one of the most important parts of human identity. This is because it can provide a sense of pride and belonging to a particular place. Cultural heritage refers to the sites, things, and practices that a society considers old, important, and worthy of conservation. It is currently the subject of increasing popular and scholarly attention worldwide, and its conceptual scope is expanding. While many scholars emphasize its functions for supporting ethnic, national, and elite interests, others point to its creative and counterhegemonic sides.

Although some of the most well-known examples are buildings, such as cathedrals and palaces, heritage can also be found in landscapes. A cliff, mountain, or forest may become heritage simply because it is a place where an important historical event took place. The plain of Runnymede in England, for example, is considered to be part of Britain’s cultural heritage because it was the site where the Magna Carta was signed.

A common question is whether a particular place or object can be considered cultural heritage, and the answer is usually yes. This includes everything from ruins to ancient artefacts and natural landscapes. It can even include modern art, such as paintings or sculptures. Intangible heritage can also be incorporated, including music and dance. The UNESCO World Heritage Convention is generally considered to have limited the scope of cultural heritage to tangible artefacts, but there has been growing criticism of this approach.

Scholarly research on heritage has a long history, dating back to the rise of antiquarianism and archeology in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe. In the nineteenth century, the study of heritage was dominated by nationalist agendas. Then, in the twentieth century, a focus on heritage was adopted by a number of different disciplines, such as anthropology and cultural geography.

The current interest in heritage is reflected in the growth of the field, with a large number of books and articles being published. In fact, a ProQuest Central search for peer-reviewed publications on the subject yields 30,809 results. While this reflects the broad appeal of the topic, it also highlights the need for more rigor in the estimation of heritage values.

While it is easy to understand how buildings and other physical monuments can be considered to be a cultural heritage, less is known about intangible heritage such as the skills used to create it. Moreover, it is not always possible to quantify the benefits of heritage preservation and maintenance, such as the sense of history and belonging that it can provide. This is especially true in countries that are struggling to invest enough resources into education, health, and other social welfare programs. The challenge is to find a balance between the need to preserve cultural heritage and the financial burden of protecting it. However, it is also important to remember that the purposeful destruction of tangible cultural heritage by nonstate armed groups, militias, or despotic governments amounts to more than just damage to historical monuments—it is a form of social and cultural genocide.