Our identity interweaves nature and culture

By Claudio Bertonatti

Traditionally, heritage is divided into natural and cultural. It is an intellectual exercise that seeks to classify welfares, spaces, species… only for the purpose of simplifying their understanding, as taxonomy does with zoology or botany. But this classification conditions our perception, to the point of observing nature, on the one hand, and culture, on the other. At this point we are facing a problem.

The fact is that even when we walk through the most urban landscape, it is easy to verify that wild species are present, as well as the soil, water and air. In the same way, when we walk through a wild ecosystem, cultural aspects are present: sometimes, in an invisible way, such as toponyms, myths, legends, songs, history, popular names of animals, medicinal uses of the plants… Sometimes their presence is obvious if there are paths, roads and other human structures.

However, the dissociation between “the natural” and “the cultural” is usually reinforced by the diffusion provided in the emblematic places on both sides. For example, in protected natural areas, brochures and posters shows the flora or fauna, but rarely the cultural components (historical, anthropological, archaeological and folkloric). Something similar happens when we visit a historical, archaeological or art museum: all very nice, but nature does not appear, as if it were a metaphor for the gaze of a one-eyed man. But if we were able to see with both eyes, the visual field would expand to reveal an integrated panorama.

From that view, heritage appears. That is, the integral legacy (natural and cultural) of the generations that preceded us. They selected objects, places, characters, species and events with which they identified in their time. We not only receive them: we resignify them, ratify them, discard them or renew them. Therefore, heritage is a social construction, based on the valuation, feeling and knowledge of the present. For this reason, different societies identify themselves with a patrimonial inventory that varies over time, although always, with the same purpose: to string them together to weave a story about their identity.


Claudio Bertonatti
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Claudio Bertonatti is a museologist, naturalist and teacher, with a postgraduate degree in Environmental Management and another in Historic Botanical Gardens. He has been dedicated to the conservation and interpretation of nature and cultural heritage since 1983. He has been linked to the Escuela Argentina de Naturalistas since its creation. He was Director at the Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina, the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve and the Buenos Aires Zoological Garden. Currently, he is a scientific adviser to the Azara Foundation and an attached researcher at Maimónides University. Since 2007, he is a professor at the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Tourism. He too, from the Perito Moreno Institute of Buenos Aires. He has published -as author, co-author or collaborator- 50 books and more than 600 popular and scientific articles.