Intangible Cultural Heritage and Living Communities

By Prof. Antoinette T Jackson | April 18, 2014
  • Author: Prof. Antoinette T Jackson
  • Journal: Anthropology News (American Anthropology Association)


To sustain a legacy of stones, those who dwell among them also need stewardship.

—David Lowenthal, Possessed by the Past (1996)

Bertha Moore Carter (l) and Florence Howard with Antoinette Jackson (r) at Moore Homestead in Nicodemus Kansas, US. May 2011. Photo courtesy USF Heritage Research Lab

Bertha Moore Carter (l) and Florence Howard with Antoinette Jackson (r) at Moore Homestead in Nicodemus Kansas, US. May 2011. Photo courtesy USF Heritage Research Lab

We had driven past this spot along US Highway 24 in a remote section of Graham County, Kansas (between Hill City and Stockton) many times without noticing the crumbling stone structure. But today, we stood in front of it listening to Florence and her sister Bertha Moore Carter tell us about their family’s homestead. Florence and her sister told stories of family life on the 160-acre homestead in the 1930s and 40s. They remembered the laughter that drifted from a neighbor’s parties, filling the air between homesteads, and told stories of hunting, farming and making a living on the Kansas plain. They recalled long walks to school, and summers spent with grandparents fishing and sewing. The sound of Bertha’s infectious laughter was compelling. My students from the University of South Florida Heritage Research Lab strained to hear her every word and encouraged her to share more about her father’s childhood home. We were in Nicodemus, Kansas in May 2011 as part of a National Park Service grant (J6068090024-H5000085095) to be a resource to the community and the park in heritage preservation efforts.

Ms Bertha and Ms Florence
(sound recording)

Cultural heritage professionals are called upon to preserve, conserve, protect, document, inventory, catalog, store, salvage, repair, date, count, organize, retrieve and assess authenticity with respect to resources considered of cultural or historical significance. Yet, distilling sites, places and events of significance into itemized lists and fixed themes for public branding of a visitor experience has definite impacts and implications on a community level. These cultural resource management processes are often predicated on identification and evaluation of tangible resources and being able to associate an object or artifact with a place. The static representation of dynamic processes is an issue of particular concern for living communities who are connected to them.

One way to expand management and preservation policies is to consider supporting cultural heritage that values the intimacy of associations through the active renewal of community and family connections such as rituals and tradition making. Many of these associations are not grounded primarily in the preservation of tangible or physical resources (ie, old buildings, monuments, or battlefield) or driven solely by profit motives. This discussion defines cultural heritage as a continuum of possibilities that includes tangible resources but also other acts of identity-making that are about process, discourse, and performance. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has recognized the importance of this kind of heritage as well, and in 2003, proposed Conventions for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This article argues that cultural heritage can be seen as a form of agency and a way to help people and communities make links between the past and the present in dynamic and nuanced ways…….


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