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- "You don't stumble upon your heritage. It's there, just waiting to be explored and shared."
- –Robbie Robertson
- "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."
- –Marcus Garvey
Historical Context Edit
Even in a world concerned about "the brotherhood of man," the 20th Century saw a burst of concern about their respective and distinctive cultural heritage(s) from all sorts of people. Decolonization and immigration formed the background for contemporary concerns about where “we came from.” Whether it was seeking to redress perceived wrongs or celebrating what made a group unique, “cultural heritage” became the new hobby for millions in the developed nations.
As it came to be understood in the two decades following World War II – not coincidentally, the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Native American equality, and independence movements across Asia and Africa (some three dozen new states achieved autonomy between 1945 and 1960) – cultural heritage implied a shared bond, a belonging to some sort of community determined by ethnicity, location, religion and/or common beliefs. It became both a political as well as personal tool of identity.
The physical artifacts were the first items of cultural heritage to draw attention: the paintings, drawings, mosaics, sculpture, photographs, literary works, buildings, monuments and archaeological findings. With a market for cultural heritage (both legitimate and black) artifacts booming, national and international cultural property laws which protect and regulate the disposition of cultural items were passed to protect those pieces with special significance to a defined group. In tandem, regulations evolved for repatriation of art and artifacts, usually looted or ancient, to the country of origin or former owners.
Intangible heritage also became all the rage, encompassing a dizzying array of cultural traditions: music, dress, theater, cuisine, celebrations and holidays and holy processions. To recover this “authenticity” the industry of cultural tourism has sprung up, taking people to cultural attractions far away to gather information and experiences to satisfy their “cultural needs” … be this the reinforcement of one’s own cultural identity or the observation of exotic “others.” In an age of globalization and social media, the mantra of cultural heritage provides the counterbalance.