This site, the outcome of the Faculty Tutorial HAA 98AR: Whose Culture? The Curation and Management of World Heritage is a portfolio of case studies that explore the current preservation, management, and curation of world heritage sites. We relate the management of world heritage sites to broader social and political concerns and believe that tangible cultural heritage is inextricably tied with communal identity and power. Therefore, questions of the stewardship and “ownership” of objects and sites reflect some of the most significant public issues of the modern world.
UNESCO defines world heritage as “the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value,” and defines culture as a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of a society or a social group. These features can be expressed as art, literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, traditions and beliefs. World heritage sites were first designation under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage, which UNESCO adopted in 1972 and formally came into effect in 1975 after being ratified by 22 countries. This Convention laid out our current framework for the preservation and stewardship of major cultural heritage sites across the globe. It also provides a possible infrastructure through which to consider what “cultural heritage” is in the first place. Under the three types of designated sites under the UNESCO convention, monuments, town sites, archaeological sites, and works of art are classified under “cultural heritage sites.”
Heritage can come in many forms—definitionally, it is a generational inheritance, one which may be either tangible or intangible. Intangible forms of heritage include oral traditions, community bonds, and language. Tangible forms of heritage are what we explore on this website—material traces left behind, which transmit essential cultural and historical knowledge from one generation to the next. In this way, tangible cultural heritage can be understood as monuments, town sites, archaeological sites, and works of art which carry and transmit the cultural features of society—the spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of that society or group.