“Heritage denotes everything we suppose has been handed down to us from the past. Although not all heritage is uniformly desirable, it is widely viewed as a precious and irreplaceable resource, essential to personal and collective identity and necessary for self-respect” (Lowenthal, 2005: 81)
An intersubjective fabrication.
Although the practice of heritage as described by Lowenthal is a worldwide phenomenon, the experiences and knowledge propagated by heritage objects are not necessarily universal. Indeed, they are specific to the cultural group that produced them and together create a web of truths that surround the imagined community. As with any other intersubjective values, heritage is in constant renegotiation and only exists to the extent that people believe in its existence.
A link between past and present.
However fabricated or intersubjective heritage is, it is absolutely essential to the formation of our present-day collective or individual identity because it creates a sense of continuity between the past and the present. As opposed to history which studies the meaning and use that artefacts had in the past, heritage adds a layer to the analysis of artefacts by uncovering their present-day cultural significance and current societal role.
A purposefully vague notion.
The open-ended and malleable origins of the word heritage make it more inclusive than more commonly used terms like the arts and culture. Despite being less instantly recognisable, heritage has the advantage of being able to include the cultural and the natural, the tangible and the intangible, the monumental and the vernacular as well as everything in between! Due to this exceptional inclusivity, the array of objects that can be considered heritage is nearly infinite: from the more obvious ancient artefacts, oil paintings and war monuments to more obscure objects like species of lichen, farming techniques, reenactment festivals or regional dialects.
Reference: Lowenthal, David (2005), “Natural and cultural heritage”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, (11), 1