Cultural Heritage and the Problem of Prioritization
Keywords:cultural heritage, priority list, monitoring of cultural heritage, Ukrainian heritage
Monitoring impacts to cultural heritage during armed conflict or natural disaster has often relied on priority lists. These lists rank cultural properties by relative importance. While born from practical motivations, cultural heritage monitoring based on priority lists often fosters structural biases, selective preservation, and assumptions of shared values of significance. Recent cultural heritage monitoring efforts have taken an alternative approach that moves beyond prioritization. Rather than monitoring the highest priorities on a list of sites, this alternative approach uses technology to monitor many cultural properties simultaneously. Of the impacted sites identified using this alternative approach, only a small number would have been ranked on traditional priority lists. This includes sites of local significance, representations of regional or ethnic diversity, recent heritage sites, and rural heritage. In this essay, we advance a no-priority monitoring model, in which prioritization occurs at the intervention phase, rather than serving as the starting place. Eliminating prioritization as a starting place minimizes the potential for unobserved impacts, and as a result, the implicit decisions that must be made toward mitigating those impacts. We demonstrate the current value of this approach in monitoring cultural heritage in Ukraine.
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