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Scoping and mapping intangible cultural heritage in Scotland: final report

McCleery, Alison; McCleery, Alistair; Gunn, Linda; Hill, David


Alison McCleery

Alistair McCleery

Linda Gunn

David Hill


The intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of Scotland requires to be accorded a status which is equal to that of the material culture of Scotland. If this is not currently the case, this in part reflects difficulties inherent in identifying the existence of, far less capturing the essence of, something which is not a material artefact. The creation of an accurate inventory of ICH in Scotland will constitute an important step towards safeguarding its future.
The nature of ICH in Scotland, while unique thematically and specific geographically, nevertheless exhibits a range broadly consistent with the generic UNESCO typology, and may be categorised under the headings of oral traditions and expressions; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; and traditional craftsmanship. Within this categorisation, an inclusive approach to what constitutes ICH in Scotland (as distinct from Scottish ICH) is advocated which embraces the customs and practices of well established immigrant communities. It is suggested that the touchstone for inclusion is the point where selfconscious reference to the site of origin has been replaced by selfconfident expression consistent with the ICH becoming embedded in its wider destination context.
The obverse of this situation also occurs and must be resolved in the context of recording and safeguarding ICH in Scotland. This relates to the point at which ICH in and for the community is transformed into something outward facing and intended primarily for the ‘tourist gaze’. 1 A case in point is festivals which may demonstrate aspects of both. With decisions made on criteria for eligibility for inclusion in the inventory, the next choice relates to finding the most efficient and effective means of identifying ICH on the ground. A distinction requires to be made between routes to and sources of ICH and the preferred method is to employ a snowballing technique with Local Authority staff coordinating and directing the efforts of teams of knowledgeable practitioners.
Finally, a fit-for-purpose inventory must combine flexibility from the user’s perspective with ease of data entry from the compiler’s perspective. It must also be database based so that a single change of detail effects change across the whole record. After due consideration, the preferred option is identified as a restricted-access Wiki with content being uploaded by authorised individuals only. This offers flexibility in terms of data categorisation, using a traffic light system for indicating fragility, combined with user friendliness both for those creating the inventory and for those wishing to access information.
Both in respect of the snowballing method for data gathering and for the technical aspects of data entry, basic group training sessions would require to be offered to participating professional coordinators – possibly Local Authority based.
This training would be specifically designed to be capable of being cascaded to community-based volunteer staff, drawn from ICH practitioners on the ground, who could be responsible for gathering the data and sorting it in readiness for data entry. The maintenance of any inventory will be as critical to the matter of adhering to best practice in the recording of ICH as its initial creation. It is recommended that ad hoc updating is paralleled with a more methodical stocktaking of ICH in Scotland every few years.
The establishment of an inventory of ICH in line with UNESCO best practice is not, however, a sufficient condition to ensure adequate safeguarding, although it does ensure that those examples of ICH most in need of support can be identified. However, a specific effort must also be undertaken actively to safeguard ICH for the future, and it is recommended that such endeavours are best carried out either as community level projects or embedded as part and parcel of the delivery of the curriculum in schools. If young people are progressively involved with the customs and practices of their own cultures, through both the curriculum and community-based projects, this is undoubtedly the most effective way of promoting a safeguarded ICH in Scotland for the future.


McCleery, A., McCleery, A., Gunn, L., & Hill, D. (2008). Scoping and mapping intangible cultural heritage in Scotland: final report. Museums Galleries Scotland, 1-55

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2008-07
Deposit Date Mar 30, 2010
Publicly Available Date Mar 30, 2010
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 1-55
Keywords Intangible cultural heritage; scoping; mapping; identity; nationhood; cultural inheritance;
Public URL
Publisher URL


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