Advances in Literary Study
2014. Vol.2, No.1, 1-4
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes (
Inheritance and Identity of Cultural Heritage
Olimpia Niglio
Kyoto University, Graduate School of Human and
Environmental Studies, Kyoto, Japan
Received November 2nd, 2013; revised December 5th, 2013; accepted December 27th, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Olimpia Niglio. This is an op en access article distributed under the Creative Co mmons Attri-
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Generally the community describes the “cultural heritage” such as historic, artistic, scientific and tradi-
tional. These definitions often coincide with the attribution of “value” and “identity”. Many answers
about what could “cultural heritage” be are explained as a set together with their specific value, such as
landscape and architecture of high artistic value and historic materials of scientific value. In contrast it is
not possible to rely on this generality of definitions. The reality shows that the definition of value of “cul-
tural heritage” changes in relation to the person, culture, geography, social and economic conditions. In
other words, in relation to the person, the standpoint of value of “cultural heritage” is different according
to each category, such as ruins, works of art, historic cities and gardens, and it is rare that one category
simultaneously holds many of such values. It is believed that there are no words or phrases that compre-
hensively explain the various values that prescribe “cultural heritage”. Therefore in defining “cultural
heritage” its values not must be specifically expressed as historic, artistic, scientific and others, but should
be left in a way that can correspond also to the concept of a “cultural heritage” the significance of identity
and of inheritance. Define the value of cultural heritage means to analyze the identity of the site and its
contents of inheritance. The concepts of value and inheritance analyzed here are not related to economic
considerations. Differently these concepts are analyzed with reference to scientific theories of A. K. Sen,
M. W. Feldman and L. Cavalli-Sforza. In fact this paper proposes a reflection on these concepts with the
support of interdisciplinary studies.
Keywords: Scientific Value; Identity; Inheritance; Knowledge; Cultural Proprieties
The timeline of history is traced by the heritage each genera-
tion receives, as a gift handed down via a transaction based not
on market economy principles but on a concept that intimately
links to matters of inheritance and identity. Setting aside the
legal meaning of inheritance, for our present purposes its
meaning is firstly and foremostly moral, and can only be recog-
nised and assessed within the innumerable cultural differences
in which it is encountered; not only in different geographical
areas, but also within a single country.
One of the first attempts to identify a cultural heritage was
the 1954 New Zealand Historic Places Act, whose intent was to
promote the identification, protection, and conservation of the
historic and cultural heritage of its indigenous peoples, in par-
ticular the Maori. Along with other significant early experi-
ences, this made it possible for the complex notion of cultural
value to be addressed in relation to identification with place,
and to ascribe different connotations to it, primarily in terms of
the connections that can be established between a cultural her-
itage and the society to which it belongs, and of the extent to
which those connections can be made explicit.
Since cultural assets, considered as gifts handed down, pos-
sess a value that links to the memory and identity of the territo-
ry to which they belong, it is usually impossible to make gene-
ralisations about them since the heritage to which they refer
will consist of experiences and decisions that developed in a
particular socio-cultural and economic setting, and will always
be different in different places. The things a people recognises
as its own—its history, religion, political structure, and so on
belong to a concept of place identification that eludes simplistic
definitions and is intersected by other transversal identities
pertaining to music, cuisine, painting, the graphic arts, and so
on: to intangible heritage in general, in its widest sense.
Any exploration of these topics will therefore take us into the
fields of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and the humani-
ties in general, and will require us to take account of the
changes that societies undergo in the course of their history.
Consequently we shall also need to consider the role of histori-
cal memory, as a form of knowledge that identifies itself in
those very changes. In fact the mechanisms that generate those
changes are the same mechanisms that enable cultural heritage
to be transmitted from one generation to the next.
The Interdisciplinary Nature of Cultural Value
These mechanisms of transmission, which are always differ-
ent, are of key importance for exploring and understanding
cultural differences and identities.
In the cultural field as in the science of genetics, mechanisms
of transmission operate in completely fortuitous ways although
unlike the slowness of genetics, the transmission of cultural
inheritance, and the ways in which it evolves, take place very
quickly. We find the earliest major scientific reference to the
concept of the transmission of cultural inheritance in Luigi
Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus W. Feldman, Cultural Transmission
and Evolution (Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman, 1981) in which,
introducing the concept of “cultural evolution” for the first time,
Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman write that it is also possible to
identify socialmanifestations in the analysis of human ge-
netics. But thanks to the power of language first, and then of
writing, humanity has been the only species that developed a
conscious interest in cultural transmission and evolution.
Unlike evolution in genetics, human language in fact became so
powerful that it was able to transmit information even to de-
scendants not directly biologically related, and to do so in ways
that were able to bring about changes that made possible dif-
ferent forms of cultural evolution”. Whilst this might lead us
to suppose that the transmission of cultural information is a
wholly positive consequence of human evolution, it is not dif-
ficult to see that it could also become negative, should its pur-
pose be to forcibly transmit information that could lead to cul-
tural involution or the coerced adoption of alien cultural identi-
In our present-day reality it is not difficult to see how these
processes of transmitting cultural information have enormously
accelerated. Formerly, our tools for transmission operated in
one direction from the one to the many, for example in the
case of an author who transmitted information to potential
readers in the form of a book; but now in the digital era it has
become possible to disseminate cultural information from the
many to the many (a s we now do via the Internet).
If we analyse this new reality in terms of its ability to inter-
cept the values of cultural heritage passed down from earlier
generations, it is not difficult to understand the concern that a
process of worldwide communication, incorrectly managed,
might lead to a degradation of specific local identities, and
spark off a process of globalisation that might even put an end
to all forms of cultural evolution and transmission. On the other
hand, global communication also gives us a setting in which
interdisciplinary synergies can take place between different
fields of study, for instance between pure science and the hu-
manities, that only rarely used to come into contact with each
other. Seen in this more positive light, it enables us to investi-
gate new issues that touch on cultural heritage and its value;
indeed it is entirely to be hoped that a confluence of different
disciplines can now cement close new relationships whose in-
tersections will open up interesting new cultural opportunities
and developments, enabling new models for interpreting reality
to be discovered.
Werner Heisenberg, who was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize
in Physics, wrote that:
[...] it is probably true quite generally that in the history of
human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take
place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.
These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of hu-
man culture, in different times or different cultural environ-
ments or different religious traditions: hence if they actually
meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other
that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that
new and interesting developments may follow.
For our present purposes, the interdisciplinarity to which
Heisenberg alludes is reflected in our consideration of cultural
heritage in terms of how its host community evolves. This nec-
essarily connects to its environment, and to the ecology that
constitutes the setting in which cultural evolution takes place;
in fact when we discuss human cultural adaptation to a specific
environment, the only factors that can determine different iden-
tities in different places are the interactions between a specific
environment and a specific culture (Facchini, 2006).
Moreover, the idea of cultural identity i s closely linked to an
idea of social equity, since the value that enables cultural herit-
age to go beyond mere material significance, and be enjoyed as
an inherited asset, is an opportunity for the well-being of a
community as a whole (Sen, 1980). In considering the impor-
tance of seeing cultural heritage as more than merely an accu-
mulation of tangible assets it will be of interest here, as a way
of taking us beyond utilitarianism, to recall the Indian econo-
mist Amartya Sen’s theory of the Capability Approach (Sen,
2006). Looking beyond the obvious economic benefits, it is
important to analyse Sen’s theory as fundamental for under-
standing the significance of the value each person can recognise
in their own cultural heritage. Sen has a particular interest in
this relationship between the individual and the inherited asset,
and in the cultural benefits that can derive from that relation-
ship. For example, when he analyses the value of an asset in
order to assess the benefits that can be obtained from it, he
compares different variables that intervene within different so-
cial realities. But these assessments are of an ethical type that pla-
ces the emphasis on the importance of equity within diversity.
The recognition of human diversity, analysed both in terms
of personal characteristics such as age, specific abilities and
talents, gender, cultural level and so on, and in terms of other
components, particularly environmental factors such as social
origin, climatic factors, urban context, etc. is fundamentally
important, according to Sen, for gaining knowledge of, and
respect for, the single values (of non-economic type) that can
be identified within each reality, and these are factors which, on
the other hand, do not emerge in socio-economic studies whose
principal variables are identified as income level and material
possessions. Further, Sen also re-examines the concept of col-
lective identity and the possible negative consequences that can
result when it is not correctly interpreted.
All the same, the need to identify and deepen these concepts
derives from an analysis that takes account of the complexity of
individual realities. In addressing this topic it is fundamentally
important to also consider the cultural conflictualities that in
more than one instance have not allowed individual communi-
ties to orientate their own value choices.
These conflictualities have manifested themselves above all
when economically advanced peoples have superimposed their
own models of development on emerging countries. In reality,
the choice of models cannot be generalised but should be as-
sessed in relation to the actual needs to be met and in respect of
the cultural identity of each individual people. The automatic
transfer of cultural models from countries of ancient civilisation
to others whose ancient civilisations they do not understand (as
in some countries of the African continent) can bring about
very dangerous consequences, as has alas been perpetrated in
past times, above all in Latin America (Sen, 2006a).
The Differing Identities of Cultural Value
It is fundamentally important to know and analyse individual
cultural identities, and therefore the heritage bequeathed to
them, not identifying this heritage in relation to principles of
utilitarianism or consumerism, that is, according to laws we
could define as globalising, but rather favouring the capability
of each individual to recognise and place value on their own
specific identity, which is also an expression of freedom and
social equality (Figures 1-3).
Recognising, therefore, the value of bequeathed heritage, and
of collective participation in it, establishes a close link between
a society and its cultural heritage, and therefore also with the
memory and identity of its place: a collective sharing of cultural
heritage that is also favoured by the many diversified activities
that affect the sensory and emotional aspects of each individual
enjoying use of the inherited asset.
Thus we understand how analysing the value of an asset, re-
ceived as a gift rather than as an economic transaction, links to
the social and cultural context to which the asset refers, and
thus to the historic and social identity under observation
Figure 1.
Archaeological sit e of Mo nte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo:
Olimpia Niglio, 2012).
Figure 2.
Valle San Juan (Tolima, Colombia). Prehispanic graffiti
(Photo: Olimpia Niglio, 2012).
Figure 3.
Japanese Landscape. K inkaku-ji Temple in K yoto (Photo: Olim-
pia Niglio, 2013).
(Giometti, Lipp, Szmygin, & Štulc, 2012). Were we to attempt
to develop the considerations set out here within the sector of
cultural heritage and conservation, it is not difficult to see that
the process would be complex. At the same time the possibility
emerges of exploring directions of interpretation that bypass
barriers we ourselves raise to the detriment of a constructive
dialogue between cultural diversities and in respect of those
differences (Niglio, 2012a; Niglio, 2012b).
In fact the concepts of value and identity serve as the basis
for opening a constructive dialogue and comparison between
diversified experiences and methodological approaches, in
relation to the cultural principles that concern the conservation
of cultural heritage and hence its transmission, as a gift, to fu-
ture generations. Awareness of this value enables us to more
objectively analyse the dynamics of the various theoretical and
methodological approaches found not only between diversified
geographical realities, but also in diversified socio-cultural
contexts within one single country. Acquiring knowledge of
diversity thus becomes the principal, fundamental resource for
respecting and conserving diversity itself.
Giving consideration to the identity of cultural value, what it
has meant in history, and its different interpretations, is a fun-
damentally important need in a reality in which contemporary
humanity lives a condition of mobility. We sense that we have
been removed, indeed often uprooted from our birthplace, but
at the same time we are participants in the foreignness of our
new dwelling place, with which we only attain some degree of
confidence after we have come to know its cultural values. If
we analyse this situation in the light of our increasing mobility
it is easy to see the risk of gradually losing our cultural refer-
ences, but also the possibility of creating preconditions for en-
riching our knowledge, provided that it is always supported by
a sense of cultural direction. The dimension of a culture that
extends beyond its own national boundaries has a fundamental
significance that can be found in the different historical epochs.
In 1954 the philosopher Martin Heidegger analysed the con-
cepts of “being with others” and “being in the world” (Heideg-
ger, 2007) as the two fundamental qualities of humanity for
establishing cultural relationships. In some ways these prin-
ciples were elaborated in 1972 by the UNESCO World Herit-
age Convention, which for the first time laid down principles
for the knowledge and protection of world cultural heritage
(Convention UNESCO, 1972; Niglio, 2012c). This convention
invites us to consider a worldwide dimension for the concept of
heritage, but without sacrificing the individual identities and
values of each single community. Above all in societies that are
becoming ever more multicultural, knowledge of these values is
of fundamental importance for evaluating the different methods
and modes for protecting and preserving those individual cul-
tural heritages. Obviously this issue is affected by arguments
that also touch on pedagogy, and consequently on education for
a culture of diversity (Arcomano, 2010). On this topic Amirtya
Sen once again intervenes, affirming that beyond our belonging
to a recognised ethnicity, which of itself already constitutes a
very strong identity of reference, we also possess, whilst re-
maining within our own community, numerous other identities
we acquire at later stages, one after the other, during the course
of our lives in relation to the different situations in which we
find ourselves. These identities are parts of a heritage that is not
biologically inherited but that we acquire in the course of our
lives on the basis of diversified social relationships; and be-
cause this is not regulated by any universal law, it becomes a
fundamentally important factor in our research into the value of
cultural heritage Figures 4-6. The problem of identity is often
associated with the concept of belonging to a group or an urban
context, and because this ghettoises people and makes them
unwilling to be compared to anyone else, it expresses the nega-
tivity of this concept (Sen, 1994; Sen, 2006b). Differently, Sen
affirms that human beings cannot be analysed on the basis of
Figure 4.
Japanese Landscape. The city of Uji and Uji River (Photo:
Olimpia Niglio, 2013).
Figure 5.
Jerusalem (Irsael) fro m the Mount of Oliv es (Photo: Olimpia
Niglio, 2008).
Figure 6.
Cuba. La Habana from the Castle Tres Reyes (Photo: Olim-
pia Niglio, 2012).
the group or category to which they belong, since to do so
would make it impossible to assess and acquire knowledge of
the numerous correlations that exist between individuals who
belong to different cultures. It would negate part of a collective
cultural heritage that has a fundamental role to play in the de-
velopmental process of humanity. This is what also emerges
within methods of study in which, for instance, the artistic her-
itage and conservation procedures of a nation are analysed by
establishing priorities based on a list that subdivides the various
works into categories, assigning a value judgment to each that
is determined not on the basis of the recognised testimony that
a particular work has for its community, but by a process of
reasoning; all of which only ensures protection for part of a
cultural heritage, leaving the rest to its fate. Hence the negative -
ity that Sen sees in the very value of identity, above all when it
takes no account of the relativity of the significance of the
judgments made and rather gives preference to the indisputable
assessments of a few. Thus, in giving recognition to cultural
value, we understand the importance of recovering an intercul-
tural dialogue (Convention UNESCO, 2005) so as to enhance
appreciation of the plurality of identities and their diverse im-
plications. These values must be identified within the individual
communities to which they belong, without renouncing a di-
alogue between cultures.
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