UNESCO Chair on Applied Studies of Intangible Cultural Heritage


The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) is adhered to by 180 states in the world. Hence we witness a growing need for professionals who understand the essence and socio-economic entanglements of the living heritage field. Established in 2019, the UNESCO Chair on Applied Studies of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the University of Tartu pursues to observe and support this process: we train students for work in this dynamic and topical field, we conduct research to find novel results/interpretations, we engage actors in the field to share their experience while learning from the state-of-the-art scholarly exchange. The Chair is linked to the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage but embraces also cultural diversity and heritage matters in general. Here are some examples of topics that are addressed: community action, ownership, livelihoods, food culture, small businesses, tourism, rural settlements, environmentally sustainable practices, traditional medicine.

The University of Tartu UNESCO Chair is a valued partner in the wider network of UNESCO Chairs. We take part in research projects and teaching while abiding by the UN Sustainable Development Goals like climate action, responsible consumption, or reducing inequalities. Together with students from all corners of the world, we study and discuss how to employ traditional knowledge and skills for the cause. We collaborate with scholars, civil society, and community members as well as policy-makers, in order to analyse social, economic, and environmental issues. We actively uphold a broad international and domestic cooperation, to strengthen the research-training-policy-society nexus.

Sustainable development goals

The chairholder is Kristin Kuutma, Professor of Cultural Research. The research of professor Kuutma focuses on heritage policies and the links between cultural heritage and identity. She has represented Estonia as an expert in the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, participated at numerous expert meetings, and served UNESCO’s Living Heritage Entity in an advisory capacity. She acts as the Chairperson of the Council of the Estonian National Commission for UNESCO and a member of the Estonian Council for Intangible Cultural Heritage. At the University of Tartu, she is a member of the committee elaborating the UT sustainable development roadmap.

Kristin Kuutma's keynote "Critical (Re)conceptualizations in the Politics of Heritage" at the symposium ""No such thing as heritage"? – From Basic Assumptions and Constructs to Reconceptualizations" held at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (University of Helsinki) on March 4-6, 2020. Recording: University of Helsinki.

What is intangible cultural heritage?

Intangible cultural heritage is a designation used in cultural policy. It is linked to the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that was adopted in 2003. In this international agreement the field of intangible cultural heritage is explained as follows:

The “intangible cultural heritage” means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups, and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Article 2

At the international level, the implementation of the convention is coordinated by UNESCO’s Living Heritage Entity. In Estonia, the Estonian Folk Culture Centre has been designated the national focal point for the implementation. Additional information can be found on the webpage of the Estonian National Commission for UNESCO which serves as a coordinative unit between UNESCO and Estonian organizations, institutions as well as private persons related to the work of UNESCO.


UNESCO and the Estonian National Comission (with English subtitles). ®Estonian Public Broadcasting (2021)




UNESCO in Estonia: UNESCO Chairs and female scientists (with English subtitles). ®Estonian Public Broadcasting (2021)