Preprint / Version 1

Open Anthro Vol 4-1 Cultural Heritage



Open Anthropology, Culture, Cultural heritage, anthropology, cultural anthropology


The Editors’ Note
Sallie Han & Jason Antrosio
Cultural heritage is both easy to grasp and difficult to define: You know it when you see it. Anthropologists and the communities with whom we work have not been content, however, with such flimsy criteria. In recent years, archaeologists, ethnographers, and museum professionals, among others, have undertaken thoughtful and meaningful considerations not only of what cultural heritage is, but particularly how it comes to matter, what is at stake, and for whom.

The questions raised are not only academic ones. The attempts to promote and protect cultural heritage by defining and regulating interactions with it—notably UNESCO’s 1972 World Heritage Convention—have had a range of consequences and effects. While cultural heritage refers to a purportedly shared past, it bears directly upon the experiences of the present and the expectations of the future. Access to cultural heritage has come to be regarded as a right. At the same time, it is recognized as a resource for economic development, significantly through tourism. There has been long standing interest in collecting heritage in the form of artifacts placed on exhibit in museums, and preserving the places of the past. More recently, attention has been directed also toward living or intangible heritage, such as practices of language. Supporting cultural heritage in all of its forms is a project of some urgency today—especially in contexts and conditions of conflict—and one in which anthropologists can make important and necessary contributions.

How people live in the present with the past (and the future) is a theme that is explored across all of the readings on cultural heritage included in this issue of Open Anthropology. We open recent work in anthropology with an aim toward engaging in conversation with students, scholars and professionals in other disciplines, and interested readers seeking insight on the topic of cultural heritage. With these selections—which include eight journal articles and three book reviews culled from the publications of the American Anthropological Association—our aim is to offer an overview of what anthropologists do, say, and think about cultural heritage, such as its conceptualizations as a right and a resource as well as at risk.


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