Heritage has a dual character whereby it can, at the same time, be celebrated for its outstanding universal value while having a special meaning and value for local and, in particular, bearer communities. Basing protection on the former notion of heritage as a universal, global value has been the dominant approach in international law-making since the second half of the twentieth century. More recently, the significance of heritage to local actors has become much better understood and recognised. The tensions associated with this duality have in recent times become evident with the adoption by UNESCO in 2003 of the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. In this treaty, international cultural heritage law-making has shifted from a paradigm that gives value predominantly to the material heritage – monuments, sites, artefacts and other objects – to one that celebrates a living heritage that is primarily located in the skills, knowledge and know-how of contemporary human beings. This article examines the aforementioned shift from an emphasis on global to local heritage and the role museums can play in this with regard to safeguarding intangible aspects of heritage.
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