About the Project

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Safeguarding Syrian Intangible Cultural Heritage

A quest blog entry by Denise Byrne

Much attention has rightly been given to damage to the built heritage and monuments of Syria, such as the destruction of the Temple of Bel at Palmyra and damage to the ancient sites of Nimrud and Ebla. But what is the situation of the intangible cultural heritage of Syria?

A qualitative study,  is currently being conducted by Denise Byrne (as part of her MSc Information Management at Robert Gordon University) seeking to investigate multimodal data and the role of Cultural Heritage Information Professionals in safeguarding Syrian Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

According to the UNESCO Convention, intangible cultural heritage refers to:

(a) oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
(b) performing arts;
(c) social practices, rituals and festive events;
(d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
(e) traditional craftsmanship.

Multimodal data

Multimodal data refers to any data type used, including traditional formats such as text, interview, video, documents, and also any other data types such as geo or temporal tagged data, 3D modelling, robotics, motion capture, gaming or any other data type. The use of the term multimodal data facilitates looking beyond language to investigate the multitude of ways we communicate: through images, sound and music to gestures, body posture, the use of space and other data types and technologies.

The Cultural Heritage Information Professional (CHIP)

The cultural heritage information professional, or CHIP, uses or manages information technology to organize and provide access to information resources for all users of cultural heritage. It has emerged as a result of interdisciplinary convergence connecting the digital and cultural heritage domains with the aim of safeguarding, curation, and management of cultural heritage information or data.

Research Project Objectives


Discussing ICH broadly whilst focussing on multimodal data use and the role of collaboration between CHIPs enables the scope of the project to be refined.

The objectives of the research are to:

1.   Review information on online initiatives/projects involved in safeguarding/preserving Syrian ICH to identify key players and ascertain what resources are available online.

2.   Investigate the nature and use of multimodal data in safeguarding/preserving ICH in existing publications and projects.

3.  Explore the role of the cultural heritage information professional in safeguarding/preservation ICH.

4.  Collect primary original data from multiple sources to investigate the utilization of multimodal ICH data to safeguard and preserve intangible cultural heritage

5.   Investigate, critically evaluate and synthesise how the role of the CHIP can contribute to safeguarding/preservation of Syrian ICH focussing on the activity of collaboration between CHIPs and organizations.

6.   Identify opportunities and barriers to effective use of multimodal data and collaboration between CHIPs and organizations.


Data collection is currently underway, using semi-structured interviews with two main groups: ICH experts or professionals; and Syrian ICH practitioners or people with non-formal knowledge of Syrian ICH.

Social Worlds Theory is the methodological framework for the research. This option was selected in order to facilitate situational analysis and meaning making in those situations. It fosters conceptualization of the domains of intangible cultural heritage and the cultural heritage information professional as units of analysis. The Social Worlds Theory is appropriate for researching studies of work, occupations, professions and groups of actors or organisations involved in social change, and therefore provides a useful architecture and structure for this research project.

Data analysis is via grounded theory. If the interviews completed to date are any indication, the findings should be very interesting. The interviewees have all shared one thing – they are extremely passionate about safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. 

Denise is extremely grateful for the interviewees' who have already taken part in this project for their interest and time.  She is particularly interested to speak to additional Intangible Cultural Heritage(ICH)  experts or professionals and Syrian ICH practitioners or people with non-formal knowledge of Syrian ICH.

If you are involved in this area and you are interested to participate in this research study please get in touch directly with Denise via email: d.byrne@rgu.ac.uk

The blog will feature another post in the future, when this project is complete, to share the findings of this very important research. 


Interesting Links

Below are some interesting links (the descriptions are taken directly from theses websites). Some of the projects only focus on tangible heritage (Heritage for Peace) and others have been already completed but they may be of wide appeal to a lot of people:

The iTreasures Project, available at: http://www.i-treasures.eu/

i-Treasures (Intangible Treasures - Capturing the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Learning the Rare Know-How of Living Human Treasures FP7-ICT-2011-9-600676-i-Treasures) is an Integrated Project (IP) of the European Union's 7th Framework Programme 'ICT for Access to Cultural Resources'. The project started on February 1, 2013, and will last 48 months.

Heritage for Peace, available at: http://www.heritageforpeace.org/

We are an international group of heritage workers who believe that cultural heritage is a common ground for dialogue and a tool to build peace. Our mission is to support heritage workers, indifferent of citizenship or religion, as they work towards the protection of cultural heritage for future generations.

 Mediterranean living heritage UNESCO project, Available at: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/medliher

Contribution to implementing the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mediterranean partner countries

With the support of the European Union, UNESCO has launched the “Mediterranean Living Heritage Project (MedLiHer)” to support the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, with the participation of the Maison des Cultures du Monde (France).

Cultural Heritage Without Borders – SYRIA, Al-Hakawati the Storyteller, Syrian oral tradition project, available at: http://chwb.org/syria/. An active and living tradition of oral storytelling still exists in Syria and in other countries of the Middle East.

Nimer Salamoun, storyteller from Syria. Photo: Hakaya Storytelling Network http://chwb.org/blog/news/al-hakawati-storyteller/
These folktales have existed in oral tradition throughout generations and capture social and moral values, entertainment and heroic epics. They can be considered as a common denominator for solidarity across ethnic, geographic, and religious boundaries. To contribute to the preservation of this intangible cultural heritage, the al-Hakawati project was initiated by CHwB in January 2014. A close collaboration was established early between CHwB and the Hakaya network represented by the Arab Education Forum (Jordan), the Arab Resource Collective for Popular Arts – Al Jana (Lebanon), and Al Balad theatre (Jordan), and in association with Fabula Storytelling (Sweden). Within its framework, six Syrian researchers in Lebanon and Syria collected more than 250 stories and a selection of 21 traditional stories has been made and published in a bi-lingual (Arabic -English) anthology.



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