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The Concept Of Cultural Heritage

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Tourism
Wordcount: 2701 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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To understand cultural heritage and interpretation, it is essential to understand the various definitions and theories in relation to the concept of cultural heritage.

The term ‘cultural heritage’ refers to the “things, places and practices that define who we are as individuals, as communities, as nations or civilizations and as a species” (Wedenoja, 2010). In other words, it is the cultural legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, preserved in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. It is a legacy which we often want to recognize and reserve because it strengthens our cultural identity of sense of who we are as people. However, what is considered cultural heritage by one generation may be rejected by the next generation, only to be revived by a succeeding generation.

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Cultural heritage is not limited to material manifestations. It also includes living expressions and the traditions that groups and communities around the world have inherited from their ancestors and transmitted to their descendants. Thus, cultural heritage can be grouped into broad categories: tangible and intangible. Tangible cultural heritage can refer to moveable objects and immoveable sites. These include archaeological sites, artifacts, buildings, historic sites, monuments, graves, and culturally significant landscapes like sacred places. Landscapes are considered heritage when they have natural features that may have cultural attributes including flora and fauna. Heritage sites like these often serve as an important component in a country’s tourist industry, attracting many visitors from abroad as well as locally. UNESCO [1] defines intangible cultural heritage as “…the non-physical characteristics, practices, representations, expressions as well as knowledge and skills that identify and define a group or civilization” (UNESCO, 2010). These include language, oral histories, beliefs, practices, rituals, ceremonies, customs, traditions, music, dance, crafts, and other arts.

Heritage that survives from the past is often unique and irreplaceable. This places the responsibility of preservation on the current generation. Safeguarding cultural heritage has become one of the priorities of international cooperation since 1972 when the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. There are 878 World Heritage Sites as of 2008. They are located in 145 countries and 678 cultural, 174 natural, and 26 mixed sites (UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 2010). The preservation of living heritage has only become significant in 2003 when UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

(This is the short version –> still have a lot of detail to add because the term cultural heritage is very detailed and has meant different things in the past decades. Unless the professor thinks this is enough.)

Cultural Heritage and the Challenges of Tourism

In recent years, key heritage sites have seen a remarkable increase poorly guided or unguided tourists. Tremendous pressure has been forced upon areas like Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang or Halong Bay the growing number of visitors and the general growth in Tourism. International agencies such as the World Tourism Organization have predicted that tourism numbers will continue to rise over the next 10 years, predominantly so for the continent of Asia. Such growths in visitor numbers worsens existing problems at World Heritage sites which include vandalism, lack of awareness of cultural and heritage significance of sites, congestion and destination and cultural commodification. As global tourism increasingly interface with heritage sites, the pressures of meeting challenges will be more pronounced. In addition to the negative effects of unguided mass tourism at heritage sites, a rise in niche cultural tourism also prompts the need for the training of cultural heritage specialist guides for World Heritage sites. The development of such niche groups of culturally-sensitive and learning-seeking tourists is constituted within the broader developments of what has been termed by tourism academics as “special interest tourism” and the diversification of the tourism market. However, the development of niche cultural tourism is hampered by the widespread lack of cultural heritage specialist guides in Asia-Pacific. In the APETIT meeting in 2002, the training of professional guides was highlighted by UNESCAP and UNESCO as key to improvements in the tourism system and industry.

What is Digitization?

We use the term digitization to refer to the process of converting physical resources or information into a digital format (Digitization, 2007). In other words, digitizing means simply capturing an analog signal in digital form. Photos taken with a digital camera, or data collected by an electronic measuring device are automatically converted into digital form. However, text and images that are in a tangible form can be digitized with a scanner (Ibid). When scanning texts or images, an optical character recognition program, also known as OCR, “analyzes a text image for light and dark areas in order to identify each alphabetic letter or numeric digit, and converts each character into an ASCII code” (Ibid). Audio and videos can also be digitized by a process in which an analog signal is changed, without changing its essential content, into a digital signal (Ibid). The process of sampling measures the amplitude, or signal strength, of an analog waveform at evenly spaced time markers (Ibid). It also signifies the samples as numerical values for input as digital data (Digitization, 2007). Objects and sites on the other hand require a more complicated process. A 3D scanner is utilized to analyze an object or environment. The 3D scanner creates a point of cloud of geometric samples on the surface of the object or site and these points can then be used to digitally reconstruct the object or site (3D Scanner, 2010). Digitized resources can be easily shared through digital devices, equipment, and networks. Despite its many advantages, digital resources still need special care and preservation as they can become obsolete. Therefore, everything must be digitized at the highest quality and migrated to the latest storage and formats.

Digitization of an object using a 3D Scanner (Scribe It, n.d.)

Why Should We Digitize Cultural Heritage?

Cultural Heritage should be digitized for the following reasons:

Preservation of Tangible Cultural Heritage

Digitization can help preserve tangible cultural heritage including objects and buildings. All objects and the valuable information they contain will be available without jeopardizing their integrity by handling or by exposure to the elements. For instance, the Stonehenge in Great Britain is using technological interpretation to conserve the heritage site. Brian Bath states in his publication “The Use of New Technology in the Interpretation of Historic Landscapes” (2006) that a massive number of visitors wanted to see every angle of the Stonehenge and if the same number of visitors came to the site constantly it would “…a threat exposed surface archaeology and to the protected lichens on the stone surfaces at ground level”. Bath (2006) also added that it was hard interpreting the site without explaining the conservation process as well. People wanted to see everything but what they didn’t understand was the effect they would have on the site. The solution for this matter was technology. Various forms of Medias like CDs with 3 models and web-based virtual museums were developed in response to assist tourists understand about the conservation and interpretation of the site.

3D/ Virtual Reconstruction of Stonehenge

Broadened Access

A lot of people can’t travel to museums or actual sites whenever they want and even if they could, space constraints imposed on museums would only allow them to see a little percentage of available collections. Therefore, digitizing cultural heritage greatly increases public access. Furthermore, it also advances the work of scholars and researchers worldwide, and opens new opportunities to educators in every setting. Often, objects reside in multiple places even if they are related. Thus, digitizing entire collections allows museums to assimilate their resources, making it possible for scholars working externally to see at a glance their complexity and extent of holdings in a given area. Moreover, digitization also allows museums to share their resources more broadly by integrating collections that have been separated by location across many cultural heritage institutions and research centers. And lastly, digitized materials also help museums reach underserved audiences, as well as those not motivated to see museums as a source of information. For instance, twenty years ago, students had to travel to Washington, D.C. to research in the Library of Congress and it was an expensive matter. Now, high school students from around the world have instant access. In 2003, the Library of Congress reported that approximately 15 million people visited American Memory. That is more than the number of people who have worked in the library’s reading rooms over the past 200 years and 1,500 times the number who annually use the manuscript reading room (Cohen & Rosenzweig, 2006).

New Access

Digitization allows access to historical resources that are inaccessible because of their fragility (Cohen & Rosenzweig, 2006). As an example, the original 1791 plan for the city Washington is so deteriorated and brittle the Library of Congress does not allow researchers to examine it (Cohen & Rosenzweig, 2006). But now anyone can view the digital copy on the library’s website. Not all Library of Congress documents are quite this fragile, but like many other sources, they can’t be browsed easily in analog form.

L’Enfant’s Original City Plan of Washington 1791 L’Enfant’s Revised City Plan of Washington 1792

Support Education

Another benefit of digitizing cultural heritage is that it supports education. Digitization impacts learning in classrooms and everywhere learning takes place. Studies of cultural heritage can come alive with instant access to images, sound files and text extracts. People will be able to experience things not normally possible in a museum, e.g. exploring the inside of a space shuttle in 3D. Furthermore, educators working with cultural heritage can interact virtually with audiences and cultivate forums for exploring topics in more depth and from varying perspectives. Lifelong learners will be able to guide their own learning with help from museums’ digitized collections. Overall, digitization will give public access to a much greater percentage of museum’s immense resources, providing better tools with which to spark learning. Brian Bath (2006) stated that the Museum of London set-up a web-based virtual museum and 40 percent of the people who visited the site including students actually came to the museum. As you can see, some people who may have never had interest in going were appealed.

Enhances Museums’ Competitiveness

Digitization can enhance museums’ competitiveness by enhancing visitors’ experience. A study was carried out by the SITI Research Center of the Queen Margaret University College (Reino, S., Mitsche, N. & Frew, A., 2007) in the UK by comparing live interpretation and traditional interpretation at 2 sites, which were Beamish and the Bowes. The result was that ICT improved competitiveness of heritage sites by enhancing learning, entertainment and visitor’s experience. Beamish which used technology for interpretation had an average of 4% better outcomes in each category.

Ease of Access for Researchers

In the past, researchers and scholars had to endure the thorough process of ordering up boxes of items in order to find what they were looking for. Sometimes researchers or scholars could not study the archival documents (e.g., glass plate and film negatives) without the prior conversions into readable or viewable media like prints. On the other hand digitization allows quick and easy browsing of large collections of material.

Enrich Context

Digitization will help enrich context of cultural heritage because everything relevant to an object including details, records, and other interpretative data can be shared. This will enable a richer interaction and enhance user’s understanding of an object or site’s context and meaning. In addition, digitization will enable allows experts to compare artifacts and specimens against those of the digitized museum, substantially increasing information about these holdings at a greater rate remotely. Equally important, it allows people around the world to add additional impressions, associations, and stories to the permanent record. (Will add an example)

Infinite Reach

Digitization allows infinite reach. It helps people draw multi-media resources from science centers, programs, and museums. Drawn resources could be combined in a way that it could transport an audience back in time. An audience could potentially see how Thai people were living 300 years ago, or witness battles. On the other hand, digitization could also let people experience the present as scientists do. For instance, an audience could be accessing data from Bangkok and could be in the Arctic the next minute learning about ice. And last but not least, people could perhaps travel virtually through space, with a view so clear, making them feel as though they could touch the stars from their armchair. As aforementioned, with digital assets, people would truly have infinite reach.

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What is Heritage Interpretation?

The Basic Principles of Heritage Interpretation

The Evolution of Heritage Interpretation and New Media

Museums and Their Functions

What are Virtual Museums?

Still missing but will be added:

How can cultural heritage material be digitized?

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Digitizing audio & video

Cultural Heritage in Thailand

Heritage Interpretation in Thailand

Examples of Heritage Interpretation and New Media in Other Countries

What is the possibility for Thailand? Is it worth it? Assesing Cost and Timelines.

Problems with Digitizing Cultural Heritage (Has to be explained in more detail and more examples)

Three major problems impede the use of digital technology from being a major tool in preserving cultural heritage. The first one is the enormous amount of financial resources needed for the scanning process, the second one is the quick obsolescence of hardware and software, and the third is the need for standardization of tools and interfaces. As a result, the work done in this area is mostly on a pilot basis, where researchers study the various aspects of certain subjects, build and experiment with modest projects, debate on standards and establish coordinating bodies.

Forms of Digitization and Their Advantages and Disadvantages

Virtual Museums

3d Technology

The origins of heritage interpretation date back to the aftermath of the creation of the first natural parks at the end of the 19th century in the United States. However, it was not until 1957, with publication by Freeman Tilden’s ‘Interpreting our Heritage’ that the foundation of the discipline were established.

Although in the early days this interpretation was essentially


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