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The values embodied in cultural heritage are identified in order to assess significance, prioritize resources, and inform conservation decision-making. It is recognised that values may compete and change over time, and that heritage may have different meanings for different stakeholders.
Alois Riegl is credited with developing Ruskin's concept of 'voicefulness' into a systematic categorization of the different values of a monument. In his 1908 essay Der moderne Denkmalkultus (The modern cult of monuments) he describes historical value, artistic value, age value, commemorative value, use value, and newness value. Riegl demonstrates that some of these values conflict and argues that they may be culturally contingent.
The UNESCO World Heritage Convention addresses cultural sites of outstanding universal value, from an historical, aesthetic, scientific, ethnological or anthropological perspective, and highlights the need for authenticity. Discussed in the 1964 Venice Charter, values and the question 'why conserve?' are the focus of the 1979 Burra Charter (last revised 1999). Cultural significance is said to be 'embodied' in the fabric, setting, use, associations, and meanings of a place, and includes aesthetic, historic, scientific, social and spiritual values for past, present and future generations. In order to preserve such values a 'cautious approach' of minimum intervention is advocated.
Significance assessment typically includes consideration of the rarity, representativeness, and communicative power of assets and their values. These are then managed in order to sustain and valorize that significance. Engagement with the economic value of heritage may help promote its preservation.
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