The importance of material heritage to the study of history and culture

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The importance of material heritage to the study of history and culture, and how far present efforts of conservation supports this.

1. Definition of heritage

1.1 Material heritage

1.2 Cultural heritage

2. The importance of heritage

2.1 How material heritage is important to the study of history and culture.

2.2 Importance of heritage to the inculcation of national identity.

3. Conservation and results

3.1 The types of conservation

3.2 Principals of conservation

3.3 What is being conserved (what is not)

3.4 To what extent are conservation efforts benefiting society.

3.5 The balance between conservation and development.

4. Conclusion

4.1 The importance of heritage to society

4.2 Areas of conservation that must be given more emphasis.

1. Definition

The Cambridge International Dictionary of English defines heritage as features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages or buildings, which still exist from the past and which have a historical importance.

From this definition, it is clear that heritage goes further then to include cultural tradition and languages as part of heritage, as opposed to popular belief that heritage are merely material artefacts that ware made a significant amount of time ago. However, Cambridge does not go so far as to explain what is of historical importance. When does a certain artefact or cultural practise stops becoming historically important, and does this happen because of passage of time, where it is too old to make a difference to society or because the way society evolved? More often than not, what is considered fascinating has nothing in common with present practices.

A good example of this is the mummification practises of the ancient Egyptian people. The research done on this subject has sparked public interest both locally and internationally. However, it is clear that this custom is not practised anymore, and therefore the gains from this subject could be insignificant. However, does this mean that it is not of historical importance anymore? The person who assumes this would be wrong; as it is obvious that mummification is extremely relevant. The question now is to what extent is a subject relevant?

1.1 Material Heritage

Material heritage are things or buildings of historical importance. However, to be historically important, these artefacts must be relevant culturally through customs, traditions, language and literature. Material artefacts and buildings cannot be considered heritage if it cannot be associated culturally as it does not fulfil the criteria for heritage listings.

For example, a colonial building in old Georgetown, Penang represents a whole range of factors, showing lifestyles and customs practised by English colonialist. How and what was used in the building shows the materials available at that time as well as the technology achieved, the design shows how the colonialist adapted to Tropical weather, with higher roofs, and a more internal aeration. Ballrooms and chapels showed their customs and religious beliefs.

This example shows the relationship between material artefacts and customs. One cannot exist without the other if it is to be considered heritage. Although it cannot be considered heritage on its own, it is crucial as it does not only completes but complements heritage as a whole.

1.2 Cultural heritage

Cultural heritage are customs, traditions and common practises performed by a certain group of people collectively within that group. This form of 'heritage' is largely underemphasized. It cannot be touched or held, but it can be seen and experienced. Unlike material heritage, cultural heritage can exist on its own, through practises and traditions.

2. The importance of heritage

How heritage is important to society is a highly subjective. It may affect a person differently, based on cultural background or occupation. For example, a contractor may...
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