Promoting living culture

Culture isn’t just what happens inside museums and theatres – it happens in homes, pubs and local streets too. That’s the principle behind the concept of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). Our researchers have been working on safeguarding ICH in Scotland.

UNESCO has defined Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities recognise as part of their cultural heritage.” Scottish examples include festivals like Shetland’s Up Helly Aa and culinary traditions such as Arbroath Smokies – things that provide a sense of identity and community cohesion.

But ICH remains, by definition, difficult to identify, curate and protect.

So, in 2008, a report into Intangible Cultural Heritage in Scotland was commissioned from the University by Museums and Galleries Scotland.

The report outlined how a scoping and mapping project to record ICH in Scotland could develop, including a national inventory in the form of a wiki – a web project where people can upload and modify content in collaboration with each other.

This initial work led to a grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council to help put the report’s recommendations into action. At the end of that three-year phase, the Edinburgh Napier ICH team had succeeded in putting ICH on the map for government and third-sector organisations.

Our work has helped shine a light on ICH. It’s now increasingly a part of the agenda for museums, schools and other organisations in Scotland,said Professor Alison McCleery.

Now Professor McCleery has been commissioned by Creative Scotland to investigate the safeguarding and promotion of living culture through its integration into the tourist experience.

The work of her Edinburgh ICH team over the past five years has also informed initiatives including the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence as well as government strategy in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Interested in this project? Contact Professor Alison McCleery