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Types of heritage

Until the late 20th century, heritage was mainly conceived in its material form: sites, buildings, objects. Today more attention is paid to intangible heritage, notably practices, ideas, music, rituals, ways of doing things. This is what we call the intangible or immaterial heritage.

However, we should remember that intangible practices are also embedded in physical relationships with concrete things: objects, places, people. Thus even the ‘intangible’ heritage is tightly entwined with the material world.

We may distinguish between official heritage – sites, objects, and practices that have been officially catalogued and recognized by national and/or international authorities – and unofficial heritage which may involve practices and sites developed by groups of citizens not yet officially recognized as ‘heritage’ by the state or by an international or specialized organisation.

Unofficial heritage can, of course, become official if at a certain point it is recognized as such. The general terms ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ do not express judgements of value or quality but rather realities of labelling and recognition. Today we are engaged in an increasing democratization of heritage creation: there is a closer focus on what communities feel is their heritage and to the need for recognizing such new unofficial forms of heritage.

Give your own definition of tangible and intangible heritage, perhaps by sharing examples of both types of heritage based on your own experience.

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This article is from the free online course:

Cultural Heritage and the City

European University Institute (EUI)

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