Heritage is the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture. Most important, it is the range of contemporary activities, meanings, and behaviors that we draw from them.
Heritage includes, but is much more than preserving, excavating, displaying, or restoring a collection of old things. It is both tangible and intangible, in the sense that ideas and memories–of songs, recipes, language, dances, and many other elements of who we are and how we identify ourselves–are as important as historical buildings and archaeological sites.
Heritage is, or should be, the subject of active public reflection, debate, and discussion. What is worth saving? What can we, or should we, forget? What memories can we enjoy, regret, or learn from? Who owns “The Past” and who is entitled to speak for past generations? Active public discussion about material and intangible heritage–of individuals, groups, communities, and nations–is a valuable facet of public life in our multicultural world.
Heritage is a contemporary activity with far-reaching effects. It can be an element of far-sighted urban and regional planning. It can be the platform for political recognition, a medium for intercultural dialogue, a means of ethical reflection, and the potential basis for local economic development. It is simultaneously local and particular, global and shared.
Heritage is an essential part of the present we live in–and of the future we will build.