Disasters, both natural and human-induced, will have an increasing effect on the world’s population, particularly with the added impacts of climate change.1 From Hurricanes Katrina’s and Sandy’s effects on New Orleans and New York, to the eruption of volcanoes in Iceland, the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the human-induced destruction of the reactor meltdown in Japan, recent disasters have had a devastating effect on people, their communities, and their environments. But how people respond to disasters, the rate at which they recover, and the steps they take to mitigate future disasters is substantially influenced by both their culture and their cultural heritage.2
Culture and heritage affects all aspects of society and how individuals define themselves in the world. Heritage, as we define it here, is not merely “what happened in the past”; that is, the term “heritage” does not only mean “history,” as in historical facts, events, and time periods. Heritage is the accretion of attitudes, values, and traditions that define our various cultural worldviews and stem from our cultural heritages, but also manifest in the tangible physical forms of cultural heritage.3 Heritage impacts a wide range of activities and decisions that people make both individually and collectively, such as how people understand and accept scientific knowledge, how they respond to and adopt technology and technological change, and how they are attached to place and to each other.4
Visit Project Muse to read other articles featured in this issue.