From the island of St Kilda 40 miles west of the Hebrides, to Edinburgh’s splendid Georgian New Town, Scotland is a nation wealthy in cultural heritage, a few of which is Unesco-protected. As properly because the nation’s globally famend castles and monuments, Scotland has an unlimited useful resource of intangible cultural heritage (ICH).
Sometimes known as “residing heritage”, intangible cultural heritage contains the huge array of conventional songs, tales, crafts and practices that present the character and backdrop to Scotland’s cultural identification. In Scotland, as in every single place, there are two major dangers to residing heritage. One, that it may be misplaced if it’s not handed down from one era to the following and two, that it’s susceptible to being misused, misinterpreted or misrepresented.
Scotland’s intangible cultural heritage options in lots of movies and TV dramas from Brigadoon (1954) to Braveheart (1995) and Outlander (2014-). These productions current a slender model of Scottish cultural identification by way of music, costume and site that’s recognisable to an viewers who could have by no means visited the nation.
At the second, these components, although very clearly belonging to the cultural heritage of Scotland, don’t must be acknowledged in any means by TV producers or filmmakers. Though the recognition of those works is partly as a consequence of their setting, no cash at the moment flows again to the state or communities for that use. This shouldn’t be the case elsewhere; most nations all over the world take pleasure in a extra sturdy method to the safety of their residing heritage.
Protecting our belongings
Living heritage is protected by way of the Unesco 2003 Convention for the Protection and Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The conference has just about international protection, with 181 nations signed up. However, the UK is likely one of the only a few nations that has not.
Traditionally, it is because when former colonies started to say their proper to independence from the mid twentieth century, that argument was typically primarily based on the assertion of precolonial tradition, typically characterised as folklore. If nations have been culturally completely different then that they had a proper to be politically completely different. So, for the colonising nation, the query of defending folklore was much less pressing as a result of no-one was making an attempt to alter its tradition or impose a brand new one.
More just lately, former colonial powers have seen the worth of safeguarding residing heritage, partly to guard conventional practices and partly as a means of growing tourism and different industrial pursuits. Now there may be all kinds of residing heritage included within the Unesco Register, from delicacies to storytelling and agricultural practices. Together, as ICH tutorial Cristina Chavez suggests, these “historic connections construct a deep sense of belonging, which in flip constitutes a way of life within the current but in addition of imagining a shared future”.
In not defending intangible cultural heritage, the UK belongs to a really small group of nations. Where many nations shield residing heritage by way of their copyright legal guidelines, the UK Copyright and Patents Act doesn’t embrace safety for folklore, so anybody can freely use the UK’s residing heritage wherever on this planet for any goal with out permission.
For instance, this may be seen within the a number of Hollywood retellings of the Arthurian legends, or the hit American TV present Bridgerton, a part of the attraction of which is the depiction of a selected sort of Englishness. Elsewhere, customers should acknowledge the place the intangible cultural heritage has come from and in some circumstances pay for its use, thus elevating income that may help safeguarding and schooling regionally.
There are, arguably, some benefits to not being a signatory of the conference, which requires member states to develop a listing of residing heritage and promote schooling and safeguarding practices. This is doubtlessly onerous and calls for assets that aren’t a precedence within the midst of financial crises.
How Scotland is doing its bit
However, what the conference requires when it comes to schooling, awareness-raising and capability constructing (article 14), and involving communities, teams and people (article 15), is already occurring in Scotland.
In a current mission with Historic Environment Scotland(HES), I, together with Ben Thomas and Catriona Morrison and Iain Craig from HES’s Gaelic crew, delivered a collection of workshops within the island of Harris and Lewis the place individuals shared their experiences of defending residing heritage of their communities.
This contains the work led by Bill Lawson at Sealleam in Harris which has developed a wealthy archive of the tales of Harris and the Western Isles, and that of the Ness Historical Society (Commun Eachraidh Nis), which gathers and shows oral histories and objects related to the realm. These initiatives clearly reveal glorious apply that rivals any of the work happening in nations which have signed as much as the Unesco conference.
There can be potential for HES, which has an residing heritage coverage assertion and different organisations, resembling Creative Scotland, Traditional Arts-Culture Scotland and Museum and Galleries Scotland, to develop methods of supporting native organsiations and so place Scotland as a frontrunner in residing heritage safeguarding.
Scotland additionally has an ICH wiki, to which anybody can add an instance of Scotland’s residing heritage, however growing a framework for defense primarily based on the experience of neighborhood organisations would align Scotland with international finest apply and make signing as much as the conference simpler ought to the UK authorities’s place change.
Given the work happening in Scotland, and the long-established use of Scotland’s residing heritage, there’s a must each develop a strong, nationwide method to safeguarding, and produce with it the potential to lift income.
Intangible cultural heritage cuts throughout political, historic, neighborhood and cultural spheres. These points are made extra acute by the marginalisation and historic exclusion of Gaelic, Doric and Scots languages and tradition. The undeniable fact that Scotland is unable to enroll to this Unesco conference when it might be helpful to take action, highlights the political points at play.
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Stephen Collins receives funding from the British Academy as a part of this analysis mission.