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ICH documentation 4/5 (1)

Exploring bottom-up approaches to ICH documentation and the role of technology (lecture)

Keywords: intangible cultural heritage; bottom-up; digital heritage.

Aims and Rationale

The aim of this activity is to introduce and develop students’ understanding of the concept of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). The suggested lecture format of this reflects the focus on providing a grounding in the most relevant topics, such as the definition of ICH, the main institutional and academic conceptualizations of it, and how the meaning attributed to cultural heritage was broadened after intangible cultural heritage had been introduced into the debate in the area of Heritage Studies.

This aim of this activity is to deepen students’ learning of some of the themes introduced by the Introduction to ICH lecture. After having presented the progression from tangible to intangible heritage, it is time to focus on yet another progression in the field of cultural heritage which has important philosophical implications: Who should oversee the safeguarding/documentation of ICH. The bottom-up approach to ICH has also implications in terms of research methodology, which will be treated in Data gathering.

Learning Outcomes and Associated Areas of Knowledge

Identify the differences between top-down and bottom-up approaches to cultural heritage and how ICH has helped the development of the latter

Examine the role played by local communities in every aspect that concerns ICH

Recognise the complexity of involving local communities in the safeguarding or documentation of ICH, and the manifold of stakeholders that take part in the distribution of power and benefits

21st Century skills

  • Conservation Literacy



How to

You can download our suggested slides and edit them according to your needs. These slides are made available via a Creative Commons Licence.

Alternatively, you can create your own set of visual aids based on this activity guide and the slides. However, we suggest that the following points are not overlooked:

  • The pros and cons of the top-down and bottom-up approaches to ICH, and the philosophical reasons for the latter.
  • The conservative agenda behind the manipulation of the past, the concept of invented traditions, and the role of governments.
  • The concept of “heritage from below” and the importance of the sub-national scale for bottom-up heritage projects.
  • The potential benefits of the bottom-up approach for community members, and the associated challenges.
  • The role that the advancement of digital technology plays in the production, dissemination, and preservation of heritage information.


Students may struggle to accept the idea that ICH can be what people make of it and decide to transmit, without the necessity of an external validation. Use examples of traditions that individuals continually observe and the link that these have with their cultural identity (e.g., family traditions).

Assessment for Learning

Assessment for learning in this activity can be embedded in interactive parts of the lecture. Questions at the start provide opportunities for them to further demonstrate personal representations of ICH. Importantly, this activity helps students to place this identification within the broader framework of bottom-up and top-down approaches. Learning in terms of the role of the communities and complexity can be demonstrated through careful questioning to the group at the end of the lecture.

Assessment 'How to'

Open questions can focus on asking the students to make the links between examples of intangible cultural heritage close to them and the role that communities have in keeping these cultural and social practices alive. Further question sequences (such as asking pairs of students to discuss and report back their shared or different answers) can invite them to focus on how technology could help the documentation or the safeguarding of ICH by also allowing the community members to have a primary role in that. Finally, explore with the students what challenges might rise with regards to dissemination, access, privacy, authenticity, and contested content.

The Power dynamics extension activity linked to this lecture can be a good way to foster reflections around the manifold of stakeholders that can be identified in every digitally-mediated bottom-up projects of ICH documentation and/or safeguarding.

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Download Word File of activity in English


  • Explain the difference between top-down and bottom-up approaches to cultural heritage.
  • Emphasise the new opportunities offered by the advancement of digital technologies, but do not forget the inherent challenges.

Online Lecture

Suggested literature