The Heritage Portal is a free online resource for everyone in the Cultural Heritage community.
What is the Cultural Heritage community?
For the purposes of this site, we focus specifically on those who are producing research into aspects of cultural heritage and those who benefit from the findings of that research – cultural heritage researchers and cultural heritage professionals/practitioners. However, the site, and the community, are open to everyone who has an interest, professional or otherwise, in cultural heritage and in its preservation.
It is important to stress that ‘cultural heritage researchers’ come from numerous different academic fields. The traditional ‘heritage’ disciplines of art history, archaeology conservation and restoration play an important role, but increasingly the field has expanded to include engineering, IT, chemistry, physics and biology. Physicists working on new techniques for laser-cleaning metal artefacts, for example, or engineers investigating how historic monuments react to seismic stress, and programmers developing digital applications that facilitate human interaction with heritage objects, sites or artefacts... all of these, and many more besides, play a key role in what we now call the Cultural Heritage community.
And, what exactly do we mean by 'cultural heritage'?
‘Heritage’ is a broad concept, and one that does not always directly translate. In French, its closest equivalent is Patrimoine, in Italian or Spanish Patrimonio, in German Erbe, in Czech Dědictví... the list is endless, but all give some sense of the valued objects, places, wildlife and cultural traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next over time.
Heritage is often divided, for administrative purposes, into the two broad fields of Natural Heritage and Cultural Heritage. When we speak of Cultural Heritage, then, we mean the elements of our wider heritage that result, specifically, from human action or interaction – monuments, sites, objects, cultural landscapes, oral history and traditions, and digital artefacts, for example.
Within the broad field of Cultural Heritage, there is a further subdivision into three more-focused subject areas: Tangible cultural heritage, Intangible cultural heritage and Digital cultural heritage. The most current UNESCO definitions for tangible, intangible and digital cultural heritage are summarised below:
Tangible Cultural Heritage: Tangibleheritage includes buildings and historic places, monuments, artifacts, etc., which are considered worthy of preservation for the future. These include objects significant to the archaeology, architecture, science or technology of a specific culture. Tangible Cultural Heritage may be further subdivided into Movable and Immovable Heritage. Movable Heritage consists of transportable items or artefacts, such as museum objects, paintings, coins, archaeological objects etc. while Immovable Heritage consists of items that are not transportable, such as buildings, monuments, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes.
Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage as the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artefacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. It is sometimes called living cultural heritage, and is manifested inter alia in the following domains: Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage; Performing arts; Social practices, rituals and festive events; Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; traditional craftsmanship.
Digital Cultural Heritage: Digital heritage is made up of computer-based materials of enduring value that should be kept for future generations. Digital heritage emanates from different communities, industries, sectors and regions. Not all digital materials are of enduring value, but those that are require active preservation approaches if continuity of digital heritage is to be maintained. Digital Heritage may be consist of either Digitised Artefacts (ie. items that have beenconverted into digital form from existing analogue resources) or Born-Digital Artefacts (ie. there is no existing format other than the digital original).
Who is behind the Heritage Portal?
The Heritage Portal is the online research community of the Joint Programming Iniative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change: A new Challenge for Europe (JPICH).
The JPICH aims to identify a common vision for Cultural Heritage research among EU member states Associated Countries and to implement that vision through the agreement of a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) for Cultural Heritage in Europe. The Strategic Research Agenda will identify priority areas for research, the sharing of resources and future development.
You can read more about the JPICH here and at www.jpi-culturalheritage.eu
How is the Heritage Portal funded?
The Heritage Portal is funded as part of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7 2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 277606.
Further information on the FP7 framework programme is available here: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/home_en.html
Who is responsible for maintaining the Heritage Portal site?
The Heritage Portal is currently maintained by the Heritage Council of Ireland – An Chomhairle Oidhreachta. The Heritage Council is a statutory public body, established under the Irish Heritage Act 1995. It takes an integrated approach to heritage, with responsibilities that include both its cultural and natural aspects, and its functions lie chiefly in proposing policies and priorities for the identification, protection, preservation and enhancement of the national heritage.
Further information on the work of the Heritage Council is available here: www.heritagecouncil.ie
And finally: How and why was the Heritage Portal created?
The Heritage Portal was initially created as an output of the European Commission funded NET-Heritage Project.
NET-Heritage (2008-2011) brought together heritage agencies in fourteen different European states, to look at the existing RTD infrastructure and resources for Cultural Heritage across Europe, and at how these could be better integrated across states in order to improve both collaboration and efficiency.
One of the issues that the NET-Heritage partners identified was a lack of any co-ordinated research structure for Cultural Heritage in Europe. Cultural Heritage is a remarkably multidisciplinary field – with relevant research being carried out in fields as diverse as seismic engineering, art history, laser physics and microbial biology, to name but a few – and is therefore particularly prone to fragmentation. In addition, there was an identified lack of access by end-users (heritage professionals, conservators, heritage advocates, researchers in related fields) to the research findings that were being produced.
In order to help address these issues, an online observatory was proposed - which would provide a place for those working in the numerous different fields related to Cultural Heritage to exchange findings, make connections and access relevant information - and so, the NET-Heritage Observatory, soon to be known as the Heritage Portal, was born.
The Heritage Portal site was officially launched in late 2011, and was taken under the wing of the, then newly formed, Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change, or JPICH. The Heritage Portal is currently managed by the Heritage Council of Ireland, on behalf of the JPICH.