Three men in military dress stand in a line.  One hands a gold sculptural objects to another, the third observes.

Why It Matters

As our collective memory, cultural heritage represents the spirit and purpose of humanity.

Cultural heritage helps define our distinct national and ethnic identities. It brings us together when used as a diplomatic tool to promote peace and conflict resolution. When it is preserved and celebrated, it can foster diversity and respect. It is also a driver of local economies, improving the standard of living for people around the globe. When cultural heritage is under threat, damaged or destroyed, the people whose traditions and values are represented by that heritage are threatened as well.

The current threats to cultural heritage are greater than ever before, disasters such as floods, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes; and those caused by humans, climate change, neglect, accidents, armed conflict and intentional destruction. Preparations for these emergencies, and the response to these disasters, often overlook the impact on cultural heritage. Whether in the United States or halfway around the world, no matter where these threats to cultural heritage occur, they affect us all because they imperil our shared experience.

“After a disaster of course the humanitarian response absolutely has to come first – it’s number one. But people often make the mistake of assuming that there’s nothing that can be done for cultural heritage in that environment during the humanitarian assistance phase. And that’s just not true; you have a ‘golden hour’ to save cultural heritage just as you do human life. And you really can’t separate the cultural heritage from the people.”

– Corine Wegener, Cultural Heritage Preservation Officer, Smithsonian Institution, August 2015