PastForward Reading List: Intangible Heritage

By Forum Online posted 08-16-2018 16:30


Editor’s note: As in years past, Preservation Leadership Forum is presenting a series of reading lists based on the major themes planned for PastForward 2018: intangible heritage, culture-nature, and resilience. Our amazing summer interns, Amy Guay and Abigail Bashor, helped us pull together the resources featured in these posts, which are intended to prepare attendees—both those traveling to San Francisco and those joining us virtually—for discussions about these themes. Learn more, and register for PastForward today!


Partnering with San Francisco Planning, PastForward 2018 will propose new and inclusive approaches for safeguarding cultural heritage through the intangible heritage theme. According to the San Francisco Planning Department website:

Intangible cultural heritage includes non-physical characteristics, such as customs and practices, artistic expressions, beliefs, languages, folklore, traditions, and even cuisine. Often passed down from generation to generation, it is constantly evolving in response to a communities' religious, political, and social environment, and provides a sense of identity and continuity.

The intangible heritage track will explore heritage beyond physical structures—its manifestation in, for example, events, music, food, and traditional crafts. “Preserving intangible heritage: Defining a research agenda” provides a thorough, scholarly overview of intangible history preservation in the United States, articulating the interdependence between tangible and intangible heritage and describing the gap between documentation and preservation.

The National Park Service presents its own perspective on tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and this UN News article from January 2018 lists elements recently deemed “significant in protecting a way of life” by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO). You can learn more about UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage on the organization’s website and check out this July 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article about Parisian bistro owners seeking UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status for their establishments.

PastForward 2018 attendees will learn how investing in intangible heritage serves the critical role of making the preservation field more inclusive and socially just. “What is Social Value?,” a publication from the Australian Heritage Commission, provides important background about the value of cultural spaces. Also check out this piece from CityLab about a research team in Singapore discovering that a successful historic preservation effort requires “urban planners and leaders need to evaluate the tangible aspects (the physical buildings or sites), the intangible elements (human-to-human interaction), and the natural surroundings.”

Intangible Heritage in San Francisco

Learning Labs at the conference will review pioneering examples of cultural heritage stewardship with a focus on our host city, which provides many models for protecting intangible heritage. In September 2014 San Francisco Heritage, a preservation advocacy nonprofit, published “Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History,” an extensive, nationally recognized report that provides strategies and case studies for conserving cultural heritage assets.

San Francisco’s Legacy Business Program, a 2015 initiative from the city’s Office of Small Businesses, recognizes the importance of protecting long-standing local places with intangible cultural significance. The program, which established a Legacy Business Registry and a Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, was the result of the first legislation in the nation to identify small businesses as historic assets and incentivize their preservation. Watch the recording of the Forum Webinar about preserving and supporting businesses in historic neighborhoods, and read this recent Forum Blog post about the program.

The 2015 Citywide Historic Context Statement for LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer] History in San Francisco was made possible by a grant from the Historic Preservation Fund. Public historian and urban planner Donna Graves and architectural historian Shayne Watson served as the project directors and authors of the statement. In it, they discuss the evolution and significance of LGBTQ history across communities, enclaves, and neighborhoods.

San Francisco is in the process of developing another context statement: “Nuestra Historia: Documenting the Chicano, Latino, and Indígena Contribution to the Development of San Francisco.” It will document the impact of Latinx history on the physical and cultural landscape of San Francisco and offer recommendations for preserving architectural, cultural, and historical resources important to Latinx communities.

San Francisco’s Cultural Districts

The conference track will examine the role cultural districts can play in understanding intangible heritage. Experts will describe the philosophy behind cultural districts, the formation of the San Francisco Cultural District program, and its planned implementation. The session will bring together a panel of program stakeholders, including politicians, planners, advocates, and community organizers. To learn more about cultural districts, check out:

Calle 24, a cultural district developed through a community planning process, will be a focus at PastForward. Learn more about it through Calle 24: Cuentos del Barrio, a walking tour of 24th Street developed by local youth. The corridor has not only been the center of Latinx activism, arts, commerce, and culture in San Francisco since the 1940s but also is the spiritual home of the city’s Latinx community, with several churches, botánicas, and cultural events like Día de los Muertos festival taking place there annually.

Other San Francisco cultural districts include:

The Many Facets of Intangible Heritage

The PastForward intangible heritage track will cover the work being done as part of San Antonio’s Living Heritage Symposium. First held in 2017, the symposium seeks to produce strategies for saving “culturally significant properties, heritage businesses and intangible heritage.” Watch the videos and presentations from the 2017 event, and read this Next City article, which details the work that cultural historian Claudia Guerra spearheaded in San Antonio—including a National Trust for Historic Preservation–allied campaign to preserve Mexican American communities and culture. The next symposium is scheduled for this September and will feature a TrustLive in partnership with the National Trust. 

Understanding intangible heritage is also key to protecting and documenting Native American resources. This 2013 Forum Blog post, which provides an overview of protecting traditional cultural properties (TCPs)—specifically an ongoing fight to protect Mount Taylor—is good background reading in advance of Learning Labs that will focus on TCPs. Also check out this Forum Blog post, which examines TCPs in Guam. Protecting the stories and traditional knowledge that TCPs harbor is critical to preserving them. Filmmaker Angelo Baca, member of the Utah Diné Bikéyah and one of the National Trust’s inaugural 40 Under 40, explained this connection, with a focus on Bears Ears, in an interview with National Trust staff.

One of the key intersections between the three PastForward tracks is the loss of intangible heritage and knowledge resulting from climate change. Victoria Herrmann, who will be featured in the conference’s resilience track, wrote about these issues in her “America’s Eroding Edges” series on the Forum Blog. This 2016 post discusses traditional knowledge, climate change, and historic preservation, and a post from 2017 takes a close look at the impact of climate change on heritage in Alaska. In a 2015 Forum Journal issue about rising sea levels, Patty Ferguson Bohnee wrote about “The Impacts of Coastal Erosion on Tribal Cultural Heritage.”

Sessions at PastForward will also focus on specific pieces of intangible heritage—for example, through a session that examines Woodstock, Asbury Park, and Haight-Ashbury as sites of music and creativity. On the Forum Blog, Jeffrey Harris wrote about the importance of protecting sites of American music, which can play a powerful role in storytelling and expanding interpretation at historic sites. Cliveden, one of the National Trust’s historic sites recently added period music to its 2014 play, “Liberty to Go to See.”

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If you are participating in the PastForward Challenge for points and prizes (Gamification), please enter the following passcode for the "Blog Post: Intangible Heritage Reading List" challenge: IHRDGLST.


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