by François LeBlanc - Getty Conservation Institute
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Is everything heritage, or is heritage something so special
that only very few and special sites or objects can be considered
During the past few years, I have had to explain to scholars,
to fishermen, to loggers and to professionals what heritage
is. If it can be of any help, I have developed a modest explanation
which I would like to share with you.
Put in simple terms, I explain that heritage is what ever
each one of us individually or collectively wish to preserve
and pass on to the next generation. If we want to preserve
something, then it is our heritage.
This of course varies quite a bit, depending on the person
or the group of persons expressing their interest. To explain
the whole range covered by heritage, I use the following three
dimensional diagram (see PDF document). On one axis,
heritage begins with you as an individual and grows all the
way to the whole world.
FROM YOU TO THE WORLD
Each individual possesses a personal heritage which he or
she cheri-shes: family pic-tures, music re-cords, personal
objects, souve-nirs, a family house, plants, animals, special
persons in the family, traditions, etc. This is a personal
heritage which individuals need to recognize, appreciate,
conserve and share with others. At this level, it is usually
left to individuals or families to recognize and pass on this
heritage from one generation to the next.
Each community possesses a collective heritage which it wants
to preserve: buildings, parks, traditions, archives, farms,
landscapes, collections of objects gathered by citizens, skilled
people, persons with a long memory of the community etc. This
constitutes a local community's heritage. At this level it
is usually the community's responsibility to raise the level
of awareness of its citizens for this local heritage.
Region, province, country:
In the same way, each region, province, and country possess
a common natural, built, human and non-physical heritage which
collectively it has to learn to recognize, appreciate, preserve
and share. Again, at each level, it is up to the region, province
and country to define what it considers as its heritage and
to care for it.
As human beings living on this planet, there are things, persons
and traditions which we consider to be our common heritage.
One only has to mention places such as the Pyramids of Giza
in Egypt, the Acropolis of Athens or Mount Everest to realize
that these places do not belong to Egypt, Greece or Nepal.
They are part of humanity's heritage and these countries are
simply the custodians of these incredible treasures. This
is why the World Heritage Convention was created: to help
the whole of humanity define what it wants to preserve and
pass on to the next generations.
FROM THE NATURAL TO THE SPIRITUAL
Thing of nature in its broadest sense. Natural heritage may
consist of sites which should be preserved for their beauty
or their uniqueness; endangered animal species or species
representative of an area; geological formations which explain
the evolution of an area or the earth etc.
Think of built in its broadest sense. Built heritage may then
consist of buildings or structures of architectural, engineering
or historical significance; industrial objects and machines;
transportation vehicles (cars, boats, airplanes), archaeological
sites and objects, archival materials, etc.
Living persons may be considered as heritage because they
possess special skills or talents such as craftsmen, musicians,
actors or artists. They can also be people having an exceptional
memory of a community (refer to the article on Japanese
legislation in ICOMOS Canada Vol.1 No.2. - it gives a good
overview of what living heritage can be).
Traditions, songs, sayings, ways of life, etc. can also be
considered as heritage though they are non-tangible.
FROM OUR VALUES TO OTHER PEOPLES VALUES
Since the notion of heritage rests on extremely varied value
systems, from the values of one individual to those of a community,
to those of the whole world, at a specific time, and that
these value systems are constantly in evolution, it is normal
that the notion of heritage is also constantly in evolution.
It is easy to understand that Japanese looking at a site or
object from a personal or community point of view would not
necessarily apply the same values to this site or object than
say aboriginal persons living in Canada or Bedouins living
in the desert of Algeria.
This simple diagram may help to explain that for some individuals
or groups, heritage is more in the community and people areas
(aboriginal persons for instance), while for others it is
essentially in the province and built areas. It may also help
to understand that at each level, it is that level's responsibility
to identify and care for its heritage and that it should not
expect or rely on other levels to do its job.
It also helps to explain that everything is not heritage,
but that there is probably much more heritage out there than
most people think. And if a person, a province, a country
or the whole world cares enough about something to pass it
on to the next generations, then anyone saying to us that
there is too much heritage and not enough money to care for
it and therefore we should limit the concept of heritage to
a few really special things, does not understand what the
conservation community stands for.
the Article in PDF Format
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