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Cultural Herritage

Teacher:  Julie Shackelford    Lessons: 4/week


As noted by David Lowenthal, ‘Heritage today all but defies definition. Overuse reduces the term to cant. So routinely is heritage rated a good thing that few ask what it is good for […] Its very lack of explicit meaning endears heritage to many custodians,’ (Lowenthal, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, 1996: 94; author emphasis). Thus, the notion of cultural heritage is notoriously ambiguous and considered to be powerful precisely because of its chameleon-like ability to mean just about anything.

As conceived today, cultural heritage can be both ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’; it can encompass things that haven’t been used for centuries and those that are still in use today; the ‘man-made’ and the ‘natural’; practices such as dance, poetry and song; and even the edible. In addition, cultural heritage is also a profession and an academic field built upon modern ideas about how and why certain objects, buildings, landscapes and traditions should be preserved and protected for people living today and in the future.


To introduce students to the concept of cultural heritage and how it ‘works’ in the world today

To critically examine the theories, methods and questions that shape the effort to protect and interpret cultural heritage today and how these impact society today as well as our ideas about history and the future

To encourage greater reflection on students’ own cultural heritage, what it means, what it does and why it matters (or not) to them


This class will explore issues such as current threats to cultural heritage, the roles of public opinion and tourism in the protection and interpretation of cultural heritage, impacts of development, questions of authenticity and identity, international law, ethics, and emerging and non-traditional areas of the field. We will learn about practical considerations, such as public policy, international organizations, legal frameworks, as well as how factors such as colonialism, nationalism and war have impacted cultural heritage over the centuries. We will look at modern threats to cultural heritage—such as armed conflict, environmental degradation, uncontrolled development, and illicit trade—and engage in current debates about ownership, responsibility, authenticity, and definitions of heritage. Students will have the opportunity to work on real-world case studies throughout the course.


Different theories and case studies will be presented in lecture format and form the basis of discussion for the class. Some light reading and/or independent research may be required. Students will also be asked to reflect on and present aspects of their own cultural heritage for the class. Visits to local museums and/or heritage sites in Denmark are also a possibility and will be determined based on class interest.

International People's College, Montebello Allé 1, 3000 Helsingør, +45 49 21 33 61