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The Tangible and the Intangible:

Diversity Promotes Democratic Cultural Conservation

Feb 13, 2016

Debborah Donnelly

University College Dublin
World Heritage Conservation
February 19, 2016

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In 2003 UNESCO defined the distinction between tangible and intangible cultural heritage by
producing the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.1 This document
was created out of the necessity to cultivate a process to ensure that those parts of human
culture that cannot be clearly understood in a physical, tangible way like artefacts and sites,
are still protected. The importance in the conceptual differences between intangible and
tangible culture has been revised and clarified with subsequent international conventions
which will be reviewed herein. This concept of tangible and intangible heritage will be further
illuminated with examples from both Egypt and Canada, which are countries whose culture
this author is most familiar with.
The idea of a democratic approach to cultural heritage conservation is both valid and
particularly important in that governing bodies do not dictate which culture (tangible or
intangible) should be safeguarded and which is not. The concept of cultural diversity is
paramount for ensuring the protection of culture of all people. This paper will explore the
principle of why cultural diversity is essential to achieving a democratic approach to cultural
heritage conservation.

Evolution of the Definition of Culture

According to Deacon, et al (2004: 1) Japan was a leader in enacting legislation to preserve
their intangible as well as tangible culture by way of its 1950 Law for the Protection of Cultural
Properties. Under Article 71, The Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and
Technology may designate an element as, Important Intangible Cultural Property (UNESCO,
1950), but they do not specifically define the concept intangible within. This national
development was later followed by other nations defining and including the term in their own
cultural heritage documents.
The Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies (UNESCO, 1982) was one of the first to use
the term intangible in an international context.
The cultural heritage of a people includes the works of its artists, architects, musicians,
writers and scientists and also the work of anonymous artists, expressions of the people's
spirituality, and the body of values which give meaning to life. It includes both tangible and
intangible works through which the creativity of that people finds expression: languages, rites,
beliefs, historic places and monuments, literature, works of art, archives and libraries.
(UNESCO, 1982: Item 23)

This convention specifically references prior documents on which it is built, including the UNESCO
Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore of 1989; the UNESCO Universal
Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001; and the Istanbul Declaration of 2002 adopted by the Third
Round Table of Ministers of Culture.

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Subsequently followed by the 25th Session of UNESCO (1989) inscribing its Recommendation
on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore.
Folklore (or traditional and popular culture) is the totality of tradition-based creations of a
cultural community, expressed by a group or individuals and recognized as reflecting the
expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity; its
standards and values are transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means. Its forms are,
among others, language, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs,
handicrafts, architecture and other arts (UNESCO, 1989: 239).

From this very early definition, recommendations were made to encourage Member States to
develop a national inventory of such folklore, to create identification and recording systems,
and a standard typology. Certain countries, often by means of presidential decrees, have set
up national mechanisms of identification and of enhancement of intangible cultural property,
founded on the institution of distinct inventories, records or listings, (UNESCO, 2002: 6).
This conceptual framework of culture was further established by the idea of heritage as a
human right, which was articulated in the 1998 Stockholm Declaration of ICOMOS Marking
the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document stipulated
the right to cultural heritage is an integral part of human rights considering the irreplaceable
nature of the tangible and intangible legacy it constitutes, and that it is threatened to in a
world which is in constant transformation (ICOMOS, 1998).

The Stockholm Declaration also provided for five specific rights to ensure global cultural diversity.

The right to have the authentic testimony of cultural heritage, respected as an expression
of one's cultural identity within the human family;
The right to better understand one's heritage and that of others;
The right to wise and appropriate use of heritage;
The right to participate in decisions affecting heritage and the cultural values it embodies;
The right to form associations for the protection and promotion of cultural heritage.
(ICOMOS, 1998)

The concept of cultural diversity was additionally expanded under the Universal Declaration
on Cultural Diversity adopted by UNESCO in 2001; it recognized that diversity comes in a
variety of cultural expressions and forms of heritage.
Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the
uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind.
(UNESCO, 2001, Article 1)
Heritage in all its forms must be preserved, enhanced and handed on to future generations
as a record of human experience and aspirations, so as to foster creativity in all its diversity.
(UNESCO, 2001, Article 7)

All of these changes led up to the UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible
Cultural Heritage (2003) which defined intangible cultural heritage as follows:
Intangible Cultural Heritage means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge,
skills as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith
that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural
heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is
constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their

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interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and
continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity... (UNESCO,
2003, Article 2).

The convention entered into force on 20 April 2006, after 30 Member States had ratified it. To
date, there are 166 Member States who have ratified the 2003 Convention,2 and an approved
list of Intangible Heritage is maintained by UNESCO (2015) which currently contains some
391 elements from 108 countries.3
The map below shows the distribution of recognised elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage
(UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Website accessed 12 February 2016).

It is visually apparent from this map that Asia has led the world in the recognition and listing
of intangible cultural heritage with China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea with the most
items approved by UNESCO to date.4
However, the concept and evolution of the idea of culture does not stop there, and will likely never
cease to be readdressed, particularly with the change and development in technology and the
expansion of the sharing of knowledge and ideas that sees culture constantly morphing. Along with
education and access to information, cultural groups otherwise unacknowledged or ignored by
states will be able to demand their rights to have their cultural heritage recognized.

Accessed on 12 February 2016 ;

Notable is that the UK, USA and Canada have not ratified it, Ireland recently did however in December 2015.
UNESCO 2015 accessed on 12 February 2016
China with 38, Japan with 22, and the Republic of Korea with 18 elements listed.

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These basic rights became principally evident, at least for Europe, with the Council of Europes
Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (2005) known as The
Faro Convention.5 To date some 17 member states have ratified the convention.6
In the Aims of the Convention (Section 1, Article 1), the Parties of the Convention agree to:
a) Recognise that rights relating to cultural heritage are inherent in the right to participate in
cultural life, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;7
b) Recognise individual and collective responsibility towards cultural heritage;
c) Emphasise that the conservation of cultural heritage and its sustainable use have human
development and quality of life as their goal;
d) Take the necessary steps to apply the provisions of this Convention concerning:
- the role of cultural heritage in the construction of a peaceful and democratic society, and
in the processes of sustainable development and the promotion of cultural diversity;
- greater synergy of competencies among all the public, institutional and private actors
concerned. (Faro Convention - Council of Europe, 2005)

UNESCO also created the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of
Cultural Expressions in 2005, which provided a new definition on cultural diversity.
Cultural diversity refers to the manifold ways in which the cultures of groups and societies
find expression. These expressions are passed on within and among groups and societies.
Cultural diversity is made manifest not only through the varied ways in which the cultural
heritage of humanity is expressed, augmented and transmitted through the variety of cultural
expressions, but also through diverse modes of artistic creation, production, dissemination,
distribution and enjoyment, whatever the means and technologies used. (UNESCO, 2005: 4)

The idea of distinct cultural heritage as classified into either tangible (e.g. monuments,
buildings, artefacts, and sites), or intangible resources (e.g. values, traditions or skills) is not
Cultural heritage may have originally been classified into the broad categories of tangible (e.g.
monuments, groups of buildings, and sites) and intangible resources (e.g. values, traditions,
and skills), but with the ICOMOS Qubec Declaration on the Spirit of Place (2008), it is useful
to think of the intangible cultural heritage as interdependent, not separate, with the tangible
heritage (Cave et al, 2015: 3). The Qubec Declaration clarifies the inclusion of tangible items
associated with intangible cultural elements. It defines both place and spirit as the tangible
and intangible components that work together.
Qubec Declaration on the Spirit of Place (2008)
Recognizing that the spirit of place is made up of tangible (sites, buildings, landscapes,
routes, objects) as well as intangible elements (memories, narratives, written documents,

The Faro Convention entered into force on 1 June 2011.

Parties to the Faro Convention In addition to the 17 states that have ratified, five states have signed the
convention: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy and San Marino. accessed 17 February 2016.
The Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948
under General Assembly resolution 217 A.

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festivals, commemorations, rituals, traditional knowledge, values, textures, colors, odors,8

etc.), which all significantly contribute to making place and to giving it spirit, we declare that
intangible cultural heritage gives a richer and more complete meaning to heritage as a whole
and it must be taken into account in all legislation concerning cultural heritage, and in all
conservation and restoration projects for monuments, sites, landscapes, routes and
collections of objects. (ICOMOS,2008).

The division between state recognition and indigenous engagement on intangible culture is
something that Kearney addresses, and should not be overlooked.
The UNESCO Convention, like other instruments developed to identify, protect and
manage cultural heritage, is formulated and administered by state and global powers.
State parties are responsible for taking the necessary measures to identify ICH9 and
to ensure the safeguarding of ICH. Bestowing ultimate discretionary power onto the
state renders Indigenous owners of ICH mere stakeholders, (Kearney, 2008: 217).
With the advent of twitter and YouTube, the concept that direct, personal development of
digital intangible heritage being streamed, saved and changing the idea of intangible heritage
has not been recognised or clearly defined yet by UNESCO. As YouTube is in large part
produced by user-generated content, it has the potential to continuously store heritage as it
occurs in lived circumstances, to a certain extent capturing the shifting nature of embodied
practice, (Pietrobruno, 2014: 742). Even twitter discussion on what is intangible culture (cover
page) contribute to the ever-changing concept. Thus the debate on what is and what is not
culture goes on.
Clearly what constitutes intangible culture is complex and, identifying what constitutes
heritage and assigning heritage value is thus a deeply subjective process. It happens in the
context of current national and international social trends and politics, and often favours certain
groups over others (Deacon, et al, 2004: 9). This position therefore requires a
recommendation therefore to be as inclusive as possible in designating who has the right to
say what is, or is not intangible culture.

Tangible vs Intangible Culture

While the list of tangible cultural heritage has a requirement to meet the concept of
outstanding universal value, this is not true for intangible cultural heritage, which is
community-based. Intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as
such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it without
their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their
heritage, (UNESCO, 2011: 5).
As an aside, as a Canadian I note that because this document was drafted in Qubec, that they chose the
American version for the terms colors and odors, over the British spellings which include the u and which
are more commonly used in English areas of the country. This could be construed as Qubec making a political
statement about their preference to disassociate with English culture (British history). It is always difficult to
separate politics completely from culture in this country.
ICH Intangible Cultural Heritage

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The selection of examples from Egypt and Canada to illustrate are based on the close
academic and personal relation the author has to these two particular regions.
Egypt ratified the 2003 Convention in August 2005,10 but according to the UNESCO List of
Intangible Culture Heritage (2015) Egypt has to date only inscribed one element, the Al-Sirah
Al-Hilaliyyah epic, which was inscribed in 2008. It is an oral poem, known as the Hilali epic,
which recounts the saga of the Bani Hilal Bedouin tribe and its migration from the Arabian
Peninsula to North Africa in the tenth century. 11
It should be noted that Egypt has also submitted a nomination for the 2016 UNESCO ICH
review, the Tahteeb stick game which is an ancient game dating back to the 5th Dynasty
(Egyptian CDF, 2015: 4) that has continued to be played up to the present, primarily in Upper
Egypt. It has been variously described as a martial art, a cane dance, a stick game, or a
performing art.
Fig. 1 Taktib photo, 1959 by Farida Fahmy.12

Following are included select examples I consider as being particularly expressive in defining
the differences between tangible and intangible culture.


The States Parties to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) accessed 11 February 2016
11 Accessed 9 February 2016
(note alternate spelling of tahteeb) accessed 9 February 2016

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The wonderful examples of Egyptian beautifully carved alabaster13 from the New Kingdom
have been admired and considerably described regarding the technology used, drawn from
both literary and tangible evidence (tools, artistic scenes, and actual objects) by modern
scholars (Lucas and Harris, 2011; Shaw, 2012; Stocks, 2003 for example).
Fig. 2 Drinking Cup14 in
the shape of a Lotus
(replica), Exhibition
Frankfurt/Main 2012
By Sat Ra - Own work,
CC BY-SA 3.0
[original from the Tomb
of Tutankhamun, KV 62,
alabaster displayed in
the Egyptian Museum,

What has not been adequately described, or inscribed on the list of intangible culture is the
continuing technical skill that has been passed on (and modified) and is used by many still
making handmade alabaster bowls and vases in modern Qurna (ancient Thebes).


Alabaster in Egypt is a, compact crystalline form of calcium carbonate (Lucas, et al 2011: 59).
An interesting Irish connection shows that the Belleek company created a ceramic copy of this alabaster cup
sometime between 1922 (when it was first discovered in Tutankhamuns tomb) and 1930, for which there is
evidence given by Fox (2005). This Belleek cultural heritage object would therefore be considered as part of
the Tut-mania phenomena described by Tim Masters (2014).

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Fig. 3 Mostafa Mohamed, master

alabaster artist, Qurna, Egypt (29
May 2015 photo D.A. Donnelly)

According to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO, 2015), surprisingly, to date
Canada is still not a signatory to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage (2003). Gauthier (2011: 2) provides an opinion on why this is so, this abstention
relate [sic] to the argument that the Convention contains a definition of ICH that is too vague,
and creates significant obligations for the state that are almost impossible to fulfill [sic] (i.e.
inventories and their regular updating), especially due to Canadas multicultural population.
However, Deacon, et al, (2004) does draw a distinction about Canada compared to other
countries. The federal Department of Canadian Heritage is unusual compared to other
national governments in that it deals with both tangible and intangible heritage. There is a
growing interest in that Department in bringing issues of ecological integrity and diversity
[together] with those of cultural integrity and diversity, and exploring the relationships between
natural and human ecology (Deacon, et al, 2004: 62).
Several Canadian provinces and the British Columbia First Peoples Cultural Council15 have
all commenced creating inventories of intangible cultural heritage. Their efforts are briefly
outlined below.


The First Peoples Cultural Council serves: 203 B.C. First Nations; 34 languages; 61 language dialects; First
Nations arts and culture organizations; Aboriginal artists; Aboriginal education organizations

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British Columbia enacted the First Peoples Heritage, Culture and Language Act in 1996 in
order to:
(a) protect, revitalize and enhance First Nations heritage, language, culture and arts,
(b) increase understanding and sharing of knowledge, within both the First Nations and
non-First Nations communities, and
(c) heighten appreciation and acceptance of the wealth of cultural diversity among all
British Columbians;
The First Peoples Cultural Council (FPCC) defines intangible culture for B.C. First Nations as
including, traditional knowledge, practices and skills. These things that define the culture
language, oral history, art techniques, rituals, stories and place names, (FPCC website,
2013).16 Notably, they also stipulate the following exclusion:
Its important to note that not all intangible cultural heritage can be shared with the general
public. Some includes secret or sacred information that must follow traditional customs that
limit who can hold the knowledge. Regardless, it still needs to be safeguarded. Secret
knowledge must still be passed from one generation to the next, and doing so means the
knowledge is safe and the heritage is protected.

Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to recognise the importance of intangible
cultural heritage, and produced a Cultural Blueprint in 2006 entitled Creative Newfoundland
and Labrador with the aim of making the province a, national leader in the recognition and
support for ICH which includes traditional knowledge, skills, languages and the traditionbearers who perpetuate them, (Procius, 2010: 44). This was followed by a Strategic Plan that
was issued by the provincial government in April 2007.
In 2008 the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador (HFNL) was designated as
the agency responsible for pursuing the strategy on intangible cultural heritage in the province.
This strategy not only encompasses settler and indigenous groups of the region but also new
Canadians who have come to the province (Jarvis, 2014: 1). The strategy stipulates four
major goals: documentation, celebration, transmission, and sustainability.
Memorial University17 maintains an Intangible Cultural Heritage website for the province and
includes the provincial ICH inventory,18 searchable by topic. Topics include:
1. Oral traditions and expressions;
2. Performing arts;
3. Social practices, Rituals and Festive Events;
4. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
5. Knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts; and

16 accessed 12 February 2016

In St. Johns Newfoundland

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6. Ephemera19
Ephemera include retaining (hard and digital) copies of things like this 2009 poster20 of a
hooked rug event in Shoal Brook, Newfoundland (Fig. 4 below).

In 2008, the Province of Nova Scotia issued a Heritage Strategy document that clearly defined
their heritage priorities including intangible culture (Nova Scotia, 2008: 4).
Heritage is that which society inherits from previous generations and deems worthy of taking
special measures to preserve for future generations, including our tangible and intangible
cultural and natural heritage.
Tangible cultural heritage includes artifacts, buildings, and records.
Intangible cultural heritage includes folklore, language, oral history, music, skills, and belief
Natural heritage includes land, water, air, and wildlife.


Ephemera, in an archival context, usually refers to transitory written and printed matter not intended to be
retained or preserved.

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Quebecs Cultural Heritage Act was adopted on October 19, 2011 and came into effect one
year later. Quebec has included clauses inspired by the 2003 Convention and by its
Sustainable Development Act. This makes it the first Canadian province to recognize ICH at
the legislative level, (Gauthier, 2011: 2).
While Ontario has not yet addressed the issue of intangible culture, I propose the following as
an excellent example that should be protected.
The Black Donnellys
One cannot speak of Irish-Canadian heritage without mentioning the Donnellys. The story of
the Black Donnellys revolves around an Irish emigrant family who moved to Ontario in 1842.
In 1880, five of the family were brutally murdered by an armed mob, and their family farm was
burned down. No one was ever convicted of these grisly murders, despite two inconclusive
trials and an eye-witness to the burning of the house and the murder of the first four.
There have been books21 and numerous articles, a (fictional) television series,22 plays,
music,23 a band,24 paranormal investigations,25 a museum,26 an official website,27 alternate
websites,28 Facebook,29 YouTube,30 and twitter pages, and walking tours,31 all dedicated to
the folk history of the massacre of the Donnelly family from Lucan, Ontario in 1880.
With the patronym, I grew up with the tales and relished the notoriety (at times) of being loosely
associated with this unfortunate clan of Irish immigrants. It is a story heaped in murder and
intrigue that continues to garner significant interest to the present day. The actual historical
site, the homestead and gravestones, the original police and other archival documents are all
part of our Canadian tangible heritage.


Including a recent (2014) book by Peter McKeown, A Donnelly Treatise - After the Massacre; and the (2013)
The Donnelly Album: The Complete & Authentic Account of Canada's Famous Feuding Family by Ray Fazakas.
The Black Donnellys was a (fictional) television series that ran for a single season in 2007 based on an Irish
criminal organisation in New York. It was touted as based on the criminal characters of the original Black
Donnellys from Lucan, Ontario.
Stompin Tom Connors wrote two songs: Black Donnellys Massacre and Jenny Donnelly
The Black Donnellys (Dublin) ; ; @blackdonnellys
Spirit Seekers The Donnellys
The owner of the land today, J. Robert Salts, offers walking tours of the property.

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Fig. 5 (below, left) The original Donnelly tombstone which was removed in 196432 (courtesy of
London Free Press)

Fig. 6 The replacement Donnelly headstone (Canadian


On the other hand, the oral tales, the ongoing interest that seemingly, continuously produces
new material (both fiction and non-fiction), and theories, and offshoots of media continue the
intangible heritage of our macabre interest in this gruesome massacre. Perhaps it can be
considered an early example of a Canadian traumascape as defined by Tumarkin (2005: 13).
While Canada may not have become a signatory to the 2003 Convention many federal and
provincial initiatives have already started the inventory and preservation of Canadian
intangible cultural heritage.

It is only in the idea of inclusivity (i.e. diversity) that culture can be fully recognised and
understood. Humans are constantly making comparisons to understand their own position in
the world (social comparison theory), and without the protection and conservation of all culture,
we may lose the ability to understand ourselves. As an archaeologist it may seem obvious to
me that we should want to conserve all culture so we can learn from our collective path, but it
is readily apparent that there are many social and political forces at play which choose to
define culture in their own terms as a means of power. Having international conventions and


Erected in 1889 by William Donnelly, the original Donnelly tombstone stood in St. Patrick's Cemetery for 75
years. It was removed in 1964 by descendants of the family following vandalism.

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the ability to enforce them are the most powerful tools we currently have to protect past,
present and future culture.
I have endeavoured to describe the process of determining intangible culture from the
perspective of two very different nations, Egypt and Canada. One with an extraordinary
ancient history which is also confined by religious and political (and I daresay economic)
strictures, the other by the fact of its own diversity. The examples chosen and illustrated were
to distinguish the differences between tangible and intangible culture, but to also provide a
glimpse into our changing concepts of what is intangible culture, particularly with the addition
of the internet and digital media.
It is unlikely that there will ever be a universal definition of intangible culture because it is
inherently fluid and a definition would be too restrictive. However, it is in that idea that the need
to protect and conserve elements of our intangible heritage that is necessary to ensure that
the entirety of human culture is preserved, whether openly shared or not.

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