Part 2: Identifying Cultural Heritage

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • apply definitions of “cultural heritage” to artifacts.
  • consider the complexities of determining if artifacts are cultural heritage.
  • determine the contexts of artifacts.

Activity 1.2

  • Look closely at each of these artifacts.
  • Think carefully about the previous discussion of the definition of cultural heritage.
  • Consider the context of each of these artifacts. Please look up information as needed.
  • Decide if you would consider each one cultural heritage. Why or why not?
  • Assign each artifact one or more types of cultural heritage: tangible, intangible, natural.

Food for Thought: Activity 1.2 Artifacts

After reading the following notes and questions to consider, determine if you change your decision about whether each artifact is cultural heritage and what type it is.

Who Decides What Is Cultural Heritage?

“Cultural heritage objects are symbolic. They represent identities in terms of culture and natural surroundings. Connection to and traditional activities around these objects create a sense of community. At the same time, the selection of which objects, monuments or natural environments are preserved sets the future trajectory for various cultural narratives and societal consensus about both the past and present.” (Cultural Heritage Studies Program)

Official determinations of whether an artifact is cultural heritage – and therefore deserves to be preserved – can have an effect on what group or groups of people are a part of the collective memory or even are considered worthy of remembrance as well as what receives funding and legal protection. A determination that one group’s artifacts are not cultural heritage can, in effect, erase them, so the determining authority has a great deal of power and responsibility.

Let’s consider this situation: a group of immigrants or refugees arrives in a different country. Having now joined another culture, they have brought with them as much of their personal and shared heritage as possible, but they are separated from their homeland. In some cases, their homeland’s cultural heritage may even have been destroyed behind them. In their new homes, these people work and live alongside others who may or may not accept them into their own established heritage. What happens to the heritage of the immigrants or refugees? Keld Buciek and Kristine Juul have found that this heritage is often lost, intentionally or unintentionally: “Despite the fact that immigrants form a relatively large share of the population of most Western European countries, and hence contribute in a substantial manner to their economic and cultural development, these groups leave only very limited imprints on the official branding of heritage sites of these countries” (105). Without recognition of the cultural heritage of others, their identity in society – even their rights as human beings and citizens – can be ephemeral.

In the previous activity, we decided individually whether certain artifacts could be considered cultural heritage. While we are (probably) not official determining authorities on the matter, our individual choices concerning what is or is not cultural heritage, especially artifacts that have an importance to someone else, can determine how we interact with, empathize, and perceive others.

Note: see Chapter 2 for further discussions on marginalized cultural heritage.


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