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UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

unesco_ich_convention_2003_en

What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?

See: UNESCO ICH – Safeguarding our living heritagehttps://ich.unesco.org/en/home where they say: “Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”.

A full definition of ICH is at: UNESCO – What is intangible cultural heritage

So … our morris dancing and related activities is a living, intangible cultural heritage.

Why does ICH need safeguarding? This is UNESCO’s answer: UNESCO – Why safeguard intangible cultural heritage.


What is happening?

The UK government is planning to ratify the UNESCO 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The UK government’s DCMS (Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) has launched a public consultation on the initial stages of implementation, focusing on the defining and identifying intangible cultural heritage in the UK.  This was announced on 23rd December 2023, and this first survey closes on 29th February 2024.

Have your say

More info and to respond to the DCMS survey, go to:  https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/2003-unesco-convention-for-the-safeguarding-of-the-intangible-cultural-heritage/ 

NOTE: We recommend you read the slides and notes from the Roundtable on 26th January to help you to find out what issues other people thought were worth raising: Slides of the ICH Roundtable Jan-Feb 2024 [PDF] and a Short summary of some of the key points of the discussion and chat [PDF].


Why is this important?

If we don’t know where we’ve come from, we can’t see where we’re going. If we don’t value what our forebears did, why will anyone value what we do now? Will everything today be in vain, forgotten, sneered at, decayed? This is our chance – our one chance to influence our future selves. These dances and tunes and songs have existed, inspired, and been robust enough to evolve but without losing their quintissential strength. We as Morris dancers may not agree with everything we do, and differ on the path of progress, but we are all passionate about what we call ‘The Morris’. That we give it that definite article demonstrates the weight of the importance of carrying the tradition forwards.

We are not a transitory people. We, the English – this ragbag of Europeans, Asians, Africans, Normans, Vikings, we cultural magpies: we adore taking this from here and that from there, and making it ours. Not better, not worse, just ours. Fish and chips; curry; rock ‘n roll, trainers – but we love keeping them. And actually, we love Morris dancing – go on, admit it, we do! We may make fun of it, but it’s our Morris dancing and only we can mock it! You go and mock your own traditional dance if you want!


Consultation on defining and identifying ICH – what is happening?

List of ICH roundtable discussions held online.

Here are the Slides of the ICH Roundtable Jan-Feb 2024 [PDF] and a Short summary of some of the key points of the discussion and chat [PDF].  We didn’t get any notes from the other meetings we attended.

  1. England, Friday 26th January 9:30-11:30am
  2. Northern Ireland, Friday 26th January 1-3pm
  3. Wales, Monday 29th January 10-12pm
  4. Scotland, Tuesday 30th January 1-3pm
  5. Oral traditions & expressions, including Folklore, Monday 5th February 10-12pm
  6. Oral traditions & expressions, including Folklore, Monday 5th February 7-9pm
  7. Performing arts, Wednesday 7th February 9-11am
  8. Performing arts, Wednesday 7th February 7-9pm
  9. Social practices, rituals, festive events, Thursday 8th February 10-12pm
  10. Social practices, rituals, festive events, Thursday 8th February 7-9pm
  11. Nature and the universe, Monday 12th February 10-12pm
  12. Nature and the universe, Monday 12th February 7-9pm – CANCELLED
  13. Traditional craftsmanship, Tuesday 13th February 1-3pm
  14. Traditional craftsmanship, Tuesday 13th February 7-9pm
  15. Culinary traditions, Monday 19th February 10-12pm
  16. Traditional sports and games, Tuesday 20th February 2-4pm
  17. Minority groups ICH, Thursday 22nd February 10-12pm

Implementation – what will happen?

The first stage of implementation will be to create an inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK.

The second stage of implementation will be the ongoing safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK.  


What is the Morris Federation doing?

The Morris Federation is regarded by DCMS as a key stakeholder in this process, and we are attending meetings with them to ensure that we represent our members. 

In this regard we will try to represent the key activities of our membership, so not only all the styles of morris and sword dancing, but also appalachian, clog stepping and mumming for example.

When it comes to adding items to the Inventory, we may ask you to submit your own events for inclusion, but we will let you know the process for that when it has been agreed.

We are also liaising with our counterparts in the Morris Ring and Open Morris to ensure we have a common perspective.

In general, the ICH should be listed by the people undertaking the activity themselves.

Since 2021, the MF has been represented on the ICOMOS-UK’s Intangible Heritage Committee‘s National Forum, along with EFDSS, Hastings Traditional Jack in the Green, Heritage Crafts, etc. 

ICOMOS = International Council on Monuments and Sites UK: ICOMOS-UK


What can our members do?

Up to 29th February 2024, please fill out the survey above.

When it comes to adding items to the Inventory, we may ask you to submit your own events for inclusion, but we will let you know the process for that when it has been agreed.


Last updated: February 2024

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