European Year of Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage, then, is no longer the preserve of the rich, the famous and the politically powerful. It is, we might say, increasingly democratized. (Which is not to say that it is fully so or without inequalities.) Neither is cultural heritage necessarily what is positively valued as beautiful, rare, old or embodying noble values. Cultural heritage can also cover histories that are negative and difficult, as witnessed in the heritage listing of sites such as concentration camps or sites of deportation.

Intangible cultural heritage has pushed the boundaries still further: cultural heritage need no longer be thought of as static, durable, material forms. Moreover, the kinds intangibles that can count as cultural heritage seem to have been increasing too. Beer Culture in Belgium, and Ideas and Practices of Organizing shared Interests in Collectives, Germany, are just two of the European items that entered the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2016 and that can illustrate the more expansive way in which such heritage is being conceived.

Last but not least is the growing number of cultural heritage lists, and of practices and techniques to identify, preserve and celebrate cultural heritage – as with European Heritage Year itself. In a rather fascinating cultural paradox – that maybe should be explored as part of European Heritage Year – these techniques themselves contribute to the cultural heritage proliferation, while often also simultaneously trying to limit it; to a proliferation, that is, that may ultimately mean that a new kind of Pokemon Go will have to be devised to seek out those rare instances of non-heritage.

Sharon Macdonald, Berlin, 2017