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Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts (cultural property) and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Cultural heritage includes tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts), intangible culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge), and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity).
The deliberate act of keeping cultural heritage from the present for the future is known as Preservation (American English) or Conservation (British English), though these terms may have more specific or technical meaning in the same contexts in the other dialect.
Cultural heritage is unique and irreplaceable, which places the responsibility of preservation on the current generation. Smaller objects such as artworks and other cultural masterpieces are collected in museums and art galleries. Grass roots organizations and political groups, such as the international body UNESCO, have been successful at gaining the necessary support to preserve the heritage of many nations for the future.
The ethics and rationale of heritage preservation
Objects are a part of the study of human history because they provide a concrete basis for ideas, and can validate them. Their preservation demonstrates a recognition of the necessity of the past and of the things that tell its story. In The Past is a Foreign Country, David Lowenthal observes that preserved objects also validate memories. While digital acquisition techniques can provide a technological solution that is able to acquire the shape and the appearance of artifacts with an unprecedented precision in human history, the actuality of the object, as opposed to a reproduction, draws people in and gives them a literal way of touching the past. This unfortunately poses a danger as places and things are damaged by the hands of tourists, the light required to display them, and other risks of making an object known and available. The reality of this risk reinforces the fact that all artifacts are in a constant state of chemical transformation, so that what is considered to be preserved is actually changing – it is never as it once was. Similarly changing is the value each generation may place on the past and on the artifacts that link it to the past.
Classical civilizations, and especially the Indian, have attributed supreme importance to the preservation of tradition. Its central idea was that social institutions, scientific knowledge and technological applications need to use a "heritage" as a "resource". Using contemporary language, we could say that ancient Indians considered, as social resources, both economic assets (like natural resources and their exploitation structure) and factors promoting social integration (like institutions for the preservation of knowledge and for the maintenance of civil order). Ethics considered that what had been inherited should not be consumed, but should be handed over, possibly enriched, to successive generations. This was a moral imperative for all, except in the final life stage of sannyasa.
What one generation considers "cultural heritage" may be rejected by the next generation, only to be revived by a subsequent generation.
Types of heritage
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Cultural property includes the physical, or "tangible" cultural heritage, such as works of art. These are generally split into two groups of moveable and immoveable heritage. Immoveable heritage includes buildings (which themselves may include installed art such as organs, stained-glass windows, and frescoes), large industrial installations or other historic places and monuments. Moveable heritage includes books, documents, moveable artworks, machines, clothing, and other artifacts, that are considered worthy of preservation for the future. These include objects significant to the archaeology, architecture, science or technology of a specific culture.
Aspects and disciplines of the preservation and conservation of tangible culture include:
- Archival science
- Digital preservation
"Intangible cultural heritage" consists of non-physical aspects of a particular culture, often maintained by social customs during a specific period in history. The ways and means of behavior in a society, and the often formal rules for operating in a particular cultural climate. These include social values and traditions, customs and practices, aesthetic and spiritual beliefs, artistic expression, language and other aspects of human activity. The significance of physical artifacts can be interpreted against the backdrop of socioeconomic, political, ethnic, religious and philosophical values of a particular group of people. Naturally, intangible cultural heritage is more difficult to preserve than physical objects.
Aspects of the preservation and conservation of cultural intangibles include:
"Natural heritage" is also an important part of a society's heritage, encompassing the countryside and natural environment, including flora and fauna, scientifically known as biodiversity, as well as geological elements (including mineralogical, geomorphological, paleontological, etc.), scientifically known as geodiversity. These kind of heritage sites often serve as an important component in a country's tourist industry, attracting many visitors from abroad as well as locally. Heritage can also include cultural landscapes (natural features that may have cultural attributes).
Aspects of the preservation and conservation of natural heritage include:
World heritage movement
Significant was the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. As of 2011, there are 936 World Heritage Sites: 725 cultural, 183 natural, and 28 mixed properties, in 153 countries. Each of these sites is considered important to the international community.
The underwater cultural heritage is protected by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. This convention is a legal instrument helping states parties to improve the protection of their underwater cultural heritage.
In additional, UNESCO has begun designating masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights sitting as part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council with article 15 of its Covenant had sought to instill the principles under which cultural heritage is protected as part of a basic human right.
Key international documents and bodies include:
- Athens Charter, 1931
- Roerich Pact, 1935
- Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954, (with a definition of cultural heritage item adopted by some national law)
- Venice Charter, 1964
- Barcelona Charter, 2002 (regarding maritime vessel preservation)
- International Committee of the Blue Shield Managing natural and manmade disasters.
- International Institute for Conservation
National and regional heritage movements
Much of heritage preservation work is done at the national, regional, or local levels of society. Various national and regional regimes include:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- South African Heritage Resources Agency
- National Monuments Council
- Heritage Western Cape
- Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
Issues in cultural heritage
Broad philosophical, technical, and political issues and dimensions of cultural heritage include:
- Cultural heritage repatriation
- Cultural Heritage Management
- Cultural property law
- Heritage tourism
- Virtual Heritage
Digital methods in preservation
- Intellectual property issues in cultural heritage (IPinCH)
- MICHAEL (webportal)
- Tanselle, G. Thomas (1998), Literature and Artifacts, Charlottesville, VA: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, ISBN 1-883631-06-8, OCLC 39223648
- Paolo Cignoni, Roberto Scopigno (June 2008), "Sampled 3D models for CH applications: A viable and enabling new medium or just a technological exercise?" (PDF), ACM Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage 1 (1): 1, doi:10.1145/1367080.1367082.
- Lowenthal, David (1985), The Past is a Foreign Country, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-22415-2, OCLC 12052097
- Proposing Varanasi for the World Heritage List of UNESCO, Varanasi Development Authority.
- Singh, Rana P.B., Vrinda Dar and S. Pravin, Rationales for including Varanasi as hertitage city in the UNESCO World Heritage List, National Geographic Journal of India (varanasi) 2001, 47:177-200.
- [This convention is a legal instrument helping states parties to improve the protection of their underwater cultural heritage]
- Barbara T. Hoffman, Art and cultural heritage: law, policy, and practice, Cambridge University Press, 2006
- Dallen J. Timothy and Gyan P. Nyaupane, Cultural heritage and tourism in the developing world : a regional perspective, Taylor & Francis, 2009
- Peter Probst, "Osogbo and the Art of Heritage: Monuments, Deities, and Money", Indiana University Press, 2011
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cultural heritage.|
- Cultural heritage policy - history and resources Getty Museum - list of major international cultural heritage documents, charters, and treaties
- UNESCO World Heritage Centre – Official website of the United Nations cultural heritage body
- International Council on Monuments and Sites
- International Council of Museums
- International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property
- Inventory of Heritage Organisations in Europe (English, French, German and Dutch language)
- International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
- Cultural routes and landscapes, a common heritage of Europe (English and French language)
- EPOCH – European Research Network on Excellence in Processing Open Cultural Heritage
- Cultural heritage search engine
- Peace Palace Library - Research Guide