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1.5: Issues in Cultural Heritage

  • Page ID
    241911
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    Learning Objectives

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

    • identify some of the issues related to cultural heritage.
    • discuss personal thoughts concerning issues related to cultural heritage.
    • consider how to apply these questions to artifacts of cultural heritage.

    “Do members of cultural groups have special claims to own or control the products of the cultures to which they belong? Is there something morally wrong with employing artistic styles that are distinctive of a culture to which you do not belong? What is the relationship between cultural heritage and group identity? Is there a coherent and morally acceptable sense of cultural group membership in the first place? Is there a universal human heritage to which everyone has a claim? Questions such as these concern the ethics of cultural heritage (or heritage ethics, for short).” (Matthes)

    As this quotation from Erich Hatala Matthes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy indicates, there are a number of issues, particularly ethical ones, that we need to consider when thinking about cultural heritage. Some of these issues include:

    • Ownership, including whether heritage belongs to the world or to the group (or groups) who identifies with or claims it
    • Cultural appropriation
    • Digitization and copying
    • Access and dissemination
    • Preservation
    • Repair
    • Destruction
    • Physical decay
    • Natural disasters
    • War and conflict
    • Repatriation
    • Illegal or underground markets
    • Private ownership
    • Climate change
    • Tourist industry
    • Sources of funding
    • Respect for the dead (and return of remains)
    • Exhibition display (and how heritage is labeled)

    This is by far not an exhaustive list, but it demonstrates the complexities and discussions that can surround cultural heritage. One or more of these may apply to any heritage artifact, given its context and situation.

    Activity 1.5

    • Read carefully through three excerpts from cultural heritage laws:
      • Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, The Hague, 1954
      • Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Paris, 1972
      • Archaeological Resources Protection Act, United States Code, 1979
    • Annotate each excerpt, identifying issues discussed related to cultural heritage as well as any questions you might have.

    Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, The Hague, 1954

    Recognizing that cultural property has suffered grave damage during recent armed conflicts and that, by reason of the developments in the technique of warfare, it is in increasing danger of destruction;

    Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world;

    Considering that the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and that it is important that this heritage should receive international protection;

    Guided by the principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict, as established in the Conventions of The Hague of 1899 and of 1907 and in the Washington Pact of 15 April, 1935;

    Being of the opinion that such protection cannot be effective unless both national and international measures have been taken to organize it in time of peace;

    Being determined to take all possible steps to protect cultural property;

    Have agreed upon the following provisions:

    Chapter I. General provisions regarding protection

    Article 1. Definition of cultural property

    For the purposes of the present Convention, the term `cultural property’ shall cover, irrespective of origin or ownership:

    (a) movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history, whether religious or secular; archaeological sites; groups of buildings which, as a whole, are of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest; as well as scientific collections and important collections of books or archives or of reproductions of the property defined above;

    (b) buildings whose main and effective purpose is to preserve or exhibit the movable cultural property defined in sub-paragraph (a) such as museums, large libraries and depositories of archives, and refuges intended to shelter, in the event of armed conflict, the movable cultural property defined in sub-paragraph (a);

    (c) centers containing a large amount of cultural property as defined in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b), to be known as `centers containing monuments’.

    Article 4. Respect for cultural property

    1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties by refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings or of the appliances in use for its protection for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict; and by refraining from any act of hostility, directed against such property.
    2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph 1 of the present Article may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires such a waiver.
    3. The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. They shall refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another High Contracting Party.
    4. They shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property.

    Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Paris, 1972

    The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meeting in Paris from 17 October to 21 November 1972, at its seventeenth session,

    Noting that the cultural heritage and the natural heritage are increasingly threatened with destruction not only by the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions which aggravate the situation with even more formidable phenomena of damage or destruction,

    Considering that deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world,

    Considering that protection of this heritage at the national level often remains incomplete because of the scale of the resources which it requires and of the insufficient economic, scientific and technical resources of the country where the property to be protected is situated,

    Recalling that the Constitution of the Organization provides that it will maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge, by assuring the conservation and protection of the world’s heritage, and recommending to the nations concerned the necessary international conventions,

    Considering that the existing international conventions, recommendations and resolutions concerning cultural and natural property demonstrate the importance, for all the peoples of the world, of safeguarding this unique and irreplaceable property, to whatever people it may belong,

    Considering that parts of the cultural or natural heritage are of outstanding interest and therefore need to be preserved as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole,

    Considering that, in view of the magnitude and gravity of the new dangers threatening them, it is incumbent on the international community as a whole to participate in the protection of the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value, by the granting of collective assistance which, although not taking the place of action by the State concerned, will serve as an effective complement thereto,

    Considering that it is essential for this purpose to adopt new provisions in the form of a convention establishing an effective system of collective protection of the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value, organized on a permanent basis and in accordance with modern scientific methods,

    Having decided, at its sixteenth session, that this question should be made the subject of an international convention,

    Adopts this sixteenth day of November 1972 this Convention.

    Archaeological Resources Protection Act, United States Code, 1979

    (a) The Congress finds that—

    (1) archaeological resources on public lands and Indian lands are an accessible and irreplaceable part of the Nation’s heritage;

    (2) these resources are increasingly endangered because of their commercial attractiveness;

    (3) existing Federal laws do not provide adequate protection to prevent the loss and destruction of these archaeological resources and sites resulting from uncontrolled excavations and pillage; and(4) there is a wealth of archaeological information which has been legally obtained by private individuals for noncommercial purposes and which could voluntarily be made available to professional archaeologists and institutions. (b) The purpose of this Act is to secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands, and to foster increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities, the professional archaeological community, and private individuals having collections of archaeological resources and data which were obtained before October 31, 1979.

    Food for Thought: Activity 1.5

    Read through the following annotations and questions to consider, and discuss them alongside your own annotations.

    Query \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    This page titled 1.5: Issues in Cultural Heritage is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kisha G. Tracy (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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