Today, France counts some of the globally most recognised pieces of cultural heritage amongst its cultural treasures, ranging from buildings and ruins of buildings to objects to intangible heritage (such as the baguette). Recognising what heritage is enables us to consider where it fits in our culture, society and religion; in short, recognition is down to identity. Without something featuring in our identity, both as a group and as individuals, it is impossible to foster or have awareness of its importance; and without that, neither the wish to preserve it nor the funding and efforts needed to do so are likely to evolve.

But identity often has a darker side. Perceiving one group to be above other, or all groups but one to be inferior, breeds both desire and the possibility for that or those groups to be erased, replaced or even eradicated. That not only affects the human rights and safety of all those who have been deemed profane to someone’s sacred (or, if you will, Othered to someone’s self), but all cultural heritage, tangible or intangible, connected to them. Not only are they deemed unimportant or threatening – their very existence may undermine extremist action and ideology, as well as identity, and is therefore perceived as threat.

Looting, destruction, erasure and other actions are the effect of such situations, and minorities are especially affected as they may not even be targeted solely during conflict, but in peacetime.

Returning to France as an example, most pieces of cultural heritage recognised today have, in some way, survived the revolution, when the turmoil of a nation at war with itself over its own culture, society, religion and, ultimately, heritage, tangible and intangible, threatened, damaged and often destroyed the same cultural heritage that is deemed so important today. This is not always possible; globally, the same attention is not or even cannot always be given to cultural heritage (particularly locally), especially when pressing issues such as disease, war or post-conflict torn country, natural disasters and poverty due to various impactful events have to come first, or where looting has become a way to earn money to survive, make a fortune, create influence or support an extremist faction through money gained through illicit trade.

As heritage is never only local but global, because of deep connections humanity has always had in various ways in the past as well as today, and that can teach us much about ourselves and our forebears, and as injustices done in the past or present may carry on consequences for identities of those injured by them, and those consequences may include damage done to tangible and intangible cultural heritage, it is vital not only to understand that our behaviour impacts both identities and their associated cultural heritage, but that reimagining can happen at any time, be positive as much as negative, and that safety, treasuring and understanding of cultural heritage is not a given, but a matter of careful consideration and continued assessment.

Hotel de Ville, Orleans.
Material culture often represents intangible culture –
symbols, stories, people. Without it, intangible heritage has no tether
and it is easier to lose or deliberately undermine.
(photo courtesy of C. Reid, 2023)

Amphitheatre in Pula.
How many people would relate better to history through use of interactive technology?
Ruins often mean too little to attract enough attention.
(photo courtesy of C. Reid, 2016)

Cathedral of Saint-Croix, Orleans.
The cathedral has seen multiple socio-cultural turbulant times,
and was destroyed by the Huguenots and rebuilt with the patronage of Marie di Medici. Not all cultural heritage receives patronage, regardless of the time –
and changes can influence whether it is considered relevant for the society or culture in question.
(photo courtesy of C. Reid, 2023)