MATERIAL CULTURAL HERITAGE

The term material cultural heritage refers to goods that should be cared for or protected because they are an important part of the culture of a country (or the whole world). This can include architectural monuments, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes, as well as movable objects in libraries or museums. Beyond their materiality, they possess an idealistic value or a significant symbolic meaning (cf. UNESCO commission). 

In Germany today, State Monument Offices are responsible for the preservation of material cultural heritage while the Federal

Government takes on more specialized projects. In Israel, the State of Israel and various non-profit associations are responsible for funding and preserving Israeli national cultural heritage, as well as for establishing and financing many communities’ heritage centers. In addition, supranational players such as the Council of Europe or the UNESCO commission of cultural heritage are active in the care, protection, and communication of cultural (world) heritage.

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PHOTOS: Roman Heritage at Limes Museum Aalen, Germany (© Sarah Schuhbauer)

 
 

The term intangible cultural heritage refers to traditions or living expressions that are not embodied in material but, rather, are passed on from one generation to the next, have developed in response to their environment, and help to give a sense of identity and continuity by connecting the past, through the present, to the future. It represents the living heritage of humanity and is preserved by living people who express it and pass it on. Examples include oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, languages, narratives, cuisines and food, clothing, knowledge and practices related to nature and the universe, or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. The importance of intangible cultural heritage lies in the wealth of knowledge and skills that is passed on from one generation to the next through cultural manifestation. The social and economic value of this transfer of knowledge is relevant and important both for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a state. 

Intangible cultural heritage is a community-based phenomenon that contributes to social cohesion and promotes a sense of identity and responsibility, thereby helping individuals to feel part of one or more communities. As declared by UNESCO: “An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life” (González 2008). It depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills, and customs is passed on to the rest of the community, and it can only be a heritage if it is recognized as such by the communities, groups, or individuals who create, maintain, and pass it on—without their recognition, no one else can decide on their behalf that a particular expression or practice is their heritage. 

Cf. M. González (2008): “Intangible heritage tourism and identity,” Tourism Management, 29, pp. 807–810.

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PHOTOS: Immaterial Jewish Heritage in Israel. (© Mayaan Cohen / Chava Brownfield-Stein)

INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE