Valorization of Cultural Heritage

About Eritrea - History & Culture

One of the key features of cultural heritage practice deals with the valuation and valorization of heritage resources. The term valorization is derived from the concept of “value”. Valorization in cultural heritage refers to adding value, giving value or increasing value of a heritage resource. In this vein, cultural heritage resources have values for humanity, for the local population or for some groups of people.

When there is an inherent value for an object or activity, this means a potential for valorization. Accordingly, when there is one cultural heritage element such as a historical building in a city, questions about its value can be multiplied. In this respect, questions such as how much it is worth in financial terms as a property and which value dimensions (aesthetic, political, military, scientific…) it has are important to assume when thinking of a valorization scheme. This article aims to highlight the concept of valorization in cultural heritage and reflect on the various issues around it in an attempt to make sense of how valorization of cultural heritage can be integrated in the overall scope of sustainable development.

Every cultural heritage element present in Eritrea´s patrimony can have a certain value for different groups of people. Values and valuing processes in cultural heritage practice are threaded through the various spheres of conservation. The products of material culture have different meanings and uses for different individuals and communities, whether they represent works of art, buildings or ethnographic artifacts. Values give some things significance over others and thereby transform some objects and places into “heritage.” The ultimate aim of conservation is not to conserve material for its own sake but, rather, to maintain (and shape) the values embodied in the heritage—with physical intervention or treatment being one of many means toward that end. To achieve that end, such that the heritage is meaningful to those whom it is intended to benefit (i.e., future generations), it is necessary to examine why and how heritage is valued, and by whom. Cultural significance is the term that encapsulates the multiple values ascribed to objects, buildings, or landscapes. These values have been ordered in categories such as aesthetic, religious, political, economic, and so on. Through the classification of values of different disciplines, fields of knowledge, or uses, those experts and stakeholders involved in the conservation of heritage properties attempt to deal with the many emotions, meanings, and functions associated with the material goods in their care. In lieu of this significance then, the aim of valorization process eventually dwells upon utilizing cultural heritage properties of the country for sustainable development to meet the objectives of sustainable development. There is a need to valorize culture in modern times. This need is crucial because globalization with technology and media impacts creates a uniform global culture. For this very reason many local cultural heritage elements – tangible or intangible - are being lost year by year. It is thus natural that governments, municipalities, organizations (public and private), and individuals wish and need to valorize some heritage elements which are dear to them. However, it should be known that all old objects are not to be valorized. It is, therefore, impossible to valorize everything since the valorization process is costly. Valorization is costly since it needs time, labor, materials, money, and expertise (know -how). This idea brings cultural heritage management to make sensible decisions. Prioritization and selecting some cultural heritage and preferring them to others need to be done. This identification and ordering of values serves as a vehicle to inform decisions about how best to preserve these values in the physical conservation of the object or place. The process of valorizing begins when individuals, institutions, or communities decide that some object or place is worth preserving, that it represents something worth remembering, something about themselves and their past that should be transmitted to future generations. These institutions, communities and/ individuals are integrated in the valorization process for the very reason that they actively create heritage through the donation of an object to a museum or through the designation or listing of a historical building or archaeological site.

Valorization seeks to create cultural and economic benefits from heritage elements. A series of steps or stages of activities are therefore integrated in the cultural heritage valorization scheme with some expected benefits and results. Cultural heritage valorization can include several stages that range from studying, documenting, researching and identifying heritage resources to safeguarding, conserving, protecting, restoring, rehabilitating, repairing, and maintaining them. The process also includes conceptualizing (developing) strategic cultural heritage management plans and executing, managing and administering financial issues as well as commercialization plans. All these processes in turn imply a comprehensive approach centering on a myriad of concerns of various stakeholders.

Heritage is valued in a variety of ways, driven by different motivations (economic, political, cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, and others), each of which has correspondingly varied ideals, ethics, and epistemologies. These different ways of valuing in turn lead to different approaches to preserving heritage.

It is therefore important to understand the valorization process as an attempt to conserve in a way that is relevant to our own society in our own moment. We must understand how values are negotiated and determine how the process of analyzing and constructing cultural significance can be enhanced. There is also a parallel obligation, beyond preserving what is relevant to our own time—that is, preserving what we believe will be significant to future generations.

Taking this broad perspective of conservation and its varied spheres of activity, a model that describes how heritage is created, how heritage is given meaning, and how societies shape heritage and are shaped by it should be developed in order to valorize heritage for sustainable development. It would also create typologies of the different stakeholders that become involved in conservation and valorization decisions. The process of valorizing cultural heritage needs to outline the variety of social processes that combine to give heritage relevance and currency in societies. These social processes naturally include collective memory-nationalism, constructing identity through the representation of cultural heritage, cultural fusion and other ways of effecting and representing cultural change as well as market dynamics and commodification of culture.

Heritage is valued in myriad ways, for myriad reasons: to construct and negotiate identity; to build bonds within a social group, like a nation or a neighborhood; to turn an economic profit; to send messages of national importance, and more. We may identify and study aspects of heritage, conserve, preserve or rehabilitate them and yet without valuing heritage for social and economic purposes and valorizing them, the practice of cultural heritage is a vain. Therefore, by looking into cultural heritage as a resource to be valued and used for valorization as well as by understanding the dynamics of the valorization process, it becomes important to use cultural heritage for sustainable development.