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What Is Heritage sample essay

My attention in this essay is going to explain what is heritage. There was a survey done in 2010 in Australia, the question was asked to people whom responsible for this survey “what first come to mind when you think ‘heritage’”. The survey was the responses of two thousands of people, and the overwhelming majority of the answers are Old, Buildings and History. As a result, can we say that traditional view still dominate, in most of people’s thoughts, basically “heritage” is not related to ‘new’ which is the representation of the history, and heritages are mainly buildings? In my point of view, heritage could not be simply defined which is of extensive meaning and far-reaching significance.

The definition of heritage from the oxford dictionary is: property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance, valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations, denoting or relating to things of special architectural, historical, or natural value that are preserved for the nation, and denoting a traditional brand or product regarded as emblematic of fine craftsmanship. Thus, we can tell that (according to the Oxford Dictionary) heritageis something that has historic or cultural value, and can be conserved passed from generation to generation.

Since heritage is things that inherited from out ancestors, we are able to have our personal heritage individually. If there are ten people being asked about what is their own heritage, then ten answers might all be different. We might inherit names, objects, properties, money or unique family traditions and so on. There are all could be considered as personal heritage, or the unofficial heritage which being regarded as importance and passed by our previous generations. With the inheritance of personal heritage, we know more about our roots. To speak of the unofficial heritage, it may manifest in the conventional form of buildings or objects that merely have significance to individuals or communities, but are not recognized by the state as heritage through legislative protection.

In addition to unofficial heritage, in a broader sense, official heritage involves the State, and its process describes those aspects of care which are sanctioned by the government, including documenting, listing and managing places as heritage. In The Uses of Heritage, Smith made her statement that “ There is, really, no such thing as heritage… but it needs to be said to highlight the common sense assumption that ‘heritage’ can unproblematically be identified as ‘old’, grand, monumental, and aesthetically pleasing sites, buildings, places and artefacts.” Apart from that, “ There is rather a hegemonic discourse about heritage which acts to constitute the way we think, talk and write about heritage.” According to Smith, the official heritage is a set of cultural symbols indicating national or universal values: the Authorised Heritage Discourse (AHD).

The AHD serves to establish what counts as heritage, what its value is, where resources should go, and what cultural identities matter in the context of particular times and places. It developed in Western Europe in the 19th century which mainly focuses on the aesthetically pleasing material heritage that present generations must care for, protect and respect, and be passed to future generations for their ‘education’, and to form a sense of common identity based on the past. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) founded the program of the World Heritage Site with the interest of the international community to preserve each site. In attention to list heritage sites from all over the world, UNESCO has a set of criteria selection which made to be the ‘canon’. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.

Besides, they clarified three main types of world heritage: cultural, natural and mixed (the mix of cultural and natural). So far, there are 745 cultural, 188 natural, and 29 mixed properties be listed as world heritage site, 190 states parties be ratified. Cultural heritage includes tangible culture such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts. Take for instance, there are 47 listed sites from China, among them; The Great Wall is the typical cultural heritage has been listed. The Great Wall was made of series of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, it was continuously built from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD on the northern border of the country as the great military defence project of successive Chinese Empires, with a total length of more than 20,000 kilometers, which became the world’s largest military structure.

The Great Wall begins in the east at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province and ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the west. The Great Wall reflects collision and exchanges between agricultural civilizations and nomadic civilizations in ancient China. It provides significant physical evidence of the far-sighted political strategic thinking and mighty military and national defence forces of central empires in ancient China, and is an outstanding example of the superb military architecture, technology and art of ancient China. It embodies unparalleled significance as the national symbol for safeguarding the security of the country and its people.

* Apart from those physical objects heritage (tangible), there are also various practices of heritage, intangible heritage which is under the cultural heritage classification. These invisible practices of heritage, such as language, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events and traditional craftsmanship are playing important role of helping use to understand who we are, and it is the choice we make about what to conserve fro the past, and what allow to be left out. For example, things like Mediterranean diet, Flamenco dance, and Chinese acupuncture and The Dragon Boat festival are being considered as intangible heritage, which carrying people’s memory and national history of culture.

Natural heritage is valued for its aesthetic qualities, its contribution to ecological, biological and geological processes and its provision of its natural habitats for its biodiversity. In the same way that we perceive both tangible and intangible aspects of culture heritage, we could also speak of tangible and intangible aspects of natural heritage: the plants, animals and landforms versus those natural sites that provide aesthetic qualities and contribution to biodiversity. Dorset and East Devon coast is one of the UK’s natural heritage sites, the cliff exposures along the Dorset and East Devon coast provide an almost continuous sequence of rock formations spanning the Mesozoic Era, or some 185 million years of the earth’s history. The area’s important fossil sites and classic coastal geomorphologic features have contributed to the study of earth sciences for over 300 years.

As a matter of fact that heritage is quite a difficult concept to define, it is a very broad sense of things that people want to keep from the past. History is about the past, whereas heritage takes the past and it repackages the past with our own values, and we save it from the future. In this case, we can say that heritage is not only about the past, but also more about how we conceptualise our future. While one thing can be sure is that whatever unofficial or official heritage, or whichever different types of official heritage, they are all considered to be the importance of past human life, and of great influence to the future.


Internet resources:, ‘Heritage’: (accessed 21st Feb. 2013).

Harrison, ‘what is heritage’: (accessed 21st Feb. 2013).

English-heritage, ‘Authorised Heritage Discourse’ in Class, Heritage and The Negotiation of Place: (assessed 21st Feb. 2013).

UNESCO, ‘The Criteria for Selection’: (assessed 21st Feb. 2013).

UNESCO, ‘The Great Wall’: (assessed 21st Feb. 2013).

UNESCO, ‘Dorset and East Devon coast’:
(assessed 21st Feb. 2013).


Harrison, R., ‘Some Definitions: Heritage, Modernity, Materiality’ in Heritage: Critical Approaches, London, 2012, p. 15.

Harrison, R., ‘What is Heritage’ in Understanding the Politics of Heritage, Manchester University, 2010, p. 8, p. 9, p. 13, p. 15.

Smith, L., ‘The discourse of heritage’ in The Uses of Heritage, New York, 2006, p. 11.

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