Why historical culture matters — and deserves our protection

Recent class discussions and my presentation on UNESCO have had me thinking a great deal about the value and importance of historical culture and artifacts. I believe there is an important balance to strike between economic development and prospectivity and at the same time, ensuring cultural preservation.

Cultural heritage can be defined as “embedded with symbolic meaning(s) that relate to societal structures, human relationships, language, myth, or behaviors” (Walsh, 2012, p. 237). Cultural heritage is important because of the meaning things and places exhibit based on their connections to events in the past. Walsh (2012) explains that “cultural objects were seen to embody greater meaning than the design, decoration, or raw materials that went into their creation might indicate simply on their own” (p. 237). Being able to see and experience cultural heritage is what provides us with important context of history.

“Heritage and cultural property play a role in the symbolism of communal identities” (Van der Auwera, 2013, p. 4). Protecting areas like UNESCO World Heritage Sites and historical buildings and infrastructure in cities like St. John’s, NL and Halifax, NS — such as Signal Hill and the Citadel — allow us to experience and understand history, culture — our identities — in ways simply reading about them in textbooks cannot explain. Van der Auwera (2013) aptly argues, “In other words, people use the past to give themselves a place in the present” (p. 4). Buildings and historical artifacts establish for individuals a “collective memory and a feeling of national and cultural identity” (Van der Auwera, 2013, p. 4) that I feel would be not be the same without being able to experience the artifact or infrastructure first-hand.

The significance of heritage does not necessarily rest in the material aspects of the artifact or environment directly, but rather the “cultural and historical processes that give it meaning… cultural heritage ‘is about people, communities and values they give to heritage places” (Nakamura, 2013)

When we discuss keeping sites like the Citadel as a prominent part of a growing and increasingly economically diverse and successful city such as Halifax, I believe it is imperative that these conversations include the importance of cultural heritage. These sites provide us anchors to which we can relate our cultures, experiences and history. Context is provided to our modern lives through these artifacts and environments. We could not be where we are currently without the experience provided from these artifacts and environments. Cultural heritage is a broad subject that applies to many different situations. Because culture may be interpreted differently by individuals, based on unique backgrounds and experiences, it’s important to keep an open mind when evaluating cultural heritage.

Research into the subject discusses the cultural importance of the preservation of environments from houses of worship to artifacts of early space exploration. Similar to the reasons general cultural preservation is important, Becerril (2012) posits that places of worship “mirror the spiritual heritage … the culture of a people (the religious one) which is not necessarily connected to artistic and historical values” (p. 471). Artifacts such as space objects demonstrate cultural innovation and provide context on the evolution of humanity — an important part of heritage, explains Rush (2012).

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), plays an important rule in ensuring cultural diversity, protection and promotion for different and unique cultures around the world (UNESCO, 2005).  Understanding the role historical culture plays in global heritage, the agency has a mandate to protect and promote culture where it needs protecting. This is accomplished through efforts such as working with nations in conflict to protect cultural artifacts and historical sites, as well as the promotion of sites of cultural significance around the world. An example of the promotion are the 962 World Heritage Sites (UNESCO). The work UNESCO undertakes demonstrates the value and importance of cultural heritage.

“Traditions and history are a part of contemporary politics, reflected in mechanisms of cultural production that create a particular version of collective memory and a feeling of national and cultural identity” (Van der Auwera, 2013, p. 4). We gain so much of our modern-day experience from our historical culture. While I agree that economic development and related advancement is important for our modern, evolving culture, because historical environments and artifacts provide such important context to where we are, it’s important that we respect and protect that historical culture and find opportunities to operate both in cultural harmony. 

References

Becerril, M. (2012). The meaning and protection of ‘cultural objects and places of worship’ under the 1977 additional protocols. Netherlands International Law Review, 59(3), 455-472. doi:10.1017/S0165070X12000290

Nakamura, N. (2013). Towards a culturally sustainable environmental impact assessment: The protection of Ainu cultural heritage in the Saru River Cultural Impact Assessment, Japan. Geographical Research, 51(1), 26-36. doi:10.1111/j.1745-5871.2012.00759.x

Rush, L. (2012). Working with the military to protect archaeological sites and other forms of cultural property. World Archaeology, 44(3), 359-377. doi:10.1080/00438243.2012.722035

UNESCO. (2005). Ten Keys to the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Retrieved Jan. 27, 2013 from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001495/149502e.pdf

UNESCO (n.d.) World Heritage List. Retrieved Feb. 13, 2013 from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/

Van der Auwera, S. (2013). UNESCO and the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. International Journal Of Cultural Policy, 19(1), 1-19. doi:10.1080/10286632.2011.625415

Walsh, J. P. (2012). Protection of humanity’s cultural and historic heritage in space.Space Policy, 28(4), 234-243. doi:10.1016/j.spacepol.2012.04.001

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About Alex Collins

A mom, dog owner, student, volunteer and PR practitioner pretty much sums it up. The blog discusses all of the above: life and PR.
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