Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What is Intangible Cultural Heritage, anyway?

Earlier today, I gave a guest talk for an intro to folklore undergraduate class taught by Mu Li, one of the PhD candidates in the Department of Folklore. My talk was about intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and what we are doing in Newfoundland and Labrador to safeguard it.

I deal often with ICH, so it isn't every day that I stop and think about what it means to people who've never heard the term before. So here are a few definitions.

The first is from UNESCO, and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The 2003 convention informs much of our safeguarding work in Newfoundland and Labrador, and this is how ICH is defined therein:
The “intangible cultural heritage” means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.
UNESCO has a detailed website with great info on the Convention and what has been listed and recognized as ICH around the world.

Closer to home, the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has been working on ICH issues since 2008, and in that year, we published a handy PDF booklet called "What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?" We also run, in cooperation with Memorial University, an ICH website with lots of resources and information about local intangible cultural heritage.  Here is how we define ICH in the booklet:

Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) or what some call “Living Heritage” encompasses many traditions, practices and customs. These include the stories we tell, the family events we celebrate, our community gatherings, the languages we speak, the songs we sing, knowledge of our natural spaces, our healing traditions, the foods we eat, our holidays, beliefs and cultural practices.

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