Knowledge and Well-being

Thematic Lead: University of Cologne & Université Mohammed V de Rabat
Coordinators: Prof. Badiha Nahhass & Prof. Martin Zillinger
Teaching Fellows: Intissar Louah & Emanuele De Simone


UNESCO definition of cultural heritage “includes artefacts, monuments, a group of buildings and sites, museums that have a diversity of values including symbolic, historic, artistic, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological, scientific and social significance. It includes tangible heritage (movable, immobile and underwater), intangible cultural heritage (ICH) embedded into cultural, and natural heritage artefacts, sites or monuments. The definition excludes ICH related to other cultural domains such as festivals, celebration etc. It covers industrial heritage and cave paintings.” (UNESCO Institute forStatistics, 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics).

This definition includes a number of tangible and intangible “things” that are difficult to define through a single concept. It is no coincidence that Rodney Harrison’s (2013) introduction is entitled “Heritage: everywhere”. However, what does the heritage discourse entail? On the one hand, it entails the need to preserve the past. On the other hand, it entails the need for transformation that is part of every society. Heritage is in the in-between, and in this it constitutes a paradox, or at least a difficult knot to untangle, especially if we think about all the different actors who are part of the “heritagization” process: from the local people to different institutional levels. According to Harrison (2013:5), “the concept of heritage not only encompasses a nation’s relationship to history and history-making, but also refers increasingly to the ways in which a broad range of other constituencies are involved in the production of the past in the present”. Even more important, “heritage is not a passive process of simply preserving things from the past that remain, but an active process of assembling a series of objects, places and practices that we choose to hold up as a mirror to the present, associated with a particular set of values that we wish to take with us into the future” (2013:4). Forms of classification and knowledge must become subject of critical thinking in order to be de-centred. To prepare your path, four fields of research have been chosen, partly following the UNESCO definition already mentioned; they are presented below:

1. Intangible heritage, also referred to as living cultural heritage, is a knowledge inheritance passed on from ancestors to descendants. UNESCO defines intangible heritage as the knowledge, practices, skills and expressions that members of a culture perceive as part of their cultural heritage. Thus, intangible heritage can be observed in such things as social practices, oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, traditional craftsmanship, rituals, celebrations, festive events, etc. Concrete examples are the gong culture and the Giong festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples in Vietnam. Another example is Morocco’sTbourida.

2. Museums: spanning across different domains (art, science, history, etc.), they represent an effort to preserve heritage, both tangible and intangible. Thus, an understanding of museums does not simply equate the preservation and exhibition of objects. Museums are also a source of knowledge (production) through which we can learn more about a community’s living cultural heritage. However, the history of museums, especially anthropological and natural, together with private collections, is closely linked to that of colonialism. Museum workers and social scientists are called upon to decolonize the museum, its narratives and collections, and to reinstitute what has been stolen and exploited from indigenous peoples around the world. Some examples are the National Craft Museum in Morocco, the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya, and the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town, South Africa.

3.      Memorials: yet another form of cultural heritage, they seek to keep a memory alive, such as that of a person or an event. These historical embodiments exist in a variety of forms such as statues, bridges, roads, community halls; public monuments that embody the history and memories of the city and its inhabitants. They represent what a society wants to preserve, but at the same time show by their presence what was possibly not selected for preservation. Therefore, they can speak of memory as well as oblivion. An example of a memorial can be found in Japan, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

4.      Natural landscapes consist of natural aspects of a setting such as geographical and physiological formations and delineated areas such as wild life resources and reserves, mountainous formations, rivers, lakes, etc. Urban landscapes are geographical areas that have been modified by people such as houses, markets, religious sites, etc. Examples are respectively the Banc d’Arguin National Park, which is found along the Atlantic Coast,  and the Landscape of Grand Pré in CanadaLandscape of Grand Pré in Canada.