In the broadest sense, cultural resources management (CRM) is the vocation and practice of managing cultural resources, such as the arts and heritage. It incorporates Cultural Heritage Management which is concerned with traditional and historic culture. It also delves into the material culture of archaeology. Cultural resources management encompasses current culture, including progressive and innovative culture, such as urban culture, rather than simply preserving and presenting traditional forms of culture.
However, the broad usage of the term is relatively recent and as a result it is most often used as synonymous with heritage management. In the United States, cultural resources management is not usually divorced from the heritage context. The term is, "used mostly by archaeologists and much more occasionally by architectural historians and historical architects, to refer to managing historic places of archaeological, architectural, and historical interests and considering such places in compliance with environmental and historic preservation laws."
Cultural resources include both physical assets such as archaeology, architecture, paintings and sculptures and also intangible culture such as folklore and interpretative arts, such as storytelling and drama. Cultural resource managers are typically in charge of museums, galleries, theatres etc., especially those that emphasize culture specific to the local region or ethnic group. Cultural tourism is a significant sector of the tourism industry.
At a national and international level, cultural resource management may be concerned with larger themes, such as languages in danger of extinction, public education, the ethos or operation of multiculturalism, and promoting access to cultural resources. The Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity is an attempt by the United Nations to identify exemplars of intangible culture.
Cultural resource management can trace its beginning to the environment/conservational movement in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, there was growth in legislation concerning the protection of cultural resources. The Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974, commonly known as the Moss-Bennett Act, helped to fuel the creation of CRM, while creating “growth in archaeological jobs in the federal government, academia, and private sector.” Federal legislation had passed earlier in 1906 under the Antiquities Act, but it was not until the 1970s when the term “cultural resources” was coined by the National Park Services. This term came into more popular usage after two meetings in 1974: the Cultural Resource Management conference and the Airlie House conference. Following these conferences, the National Park Service (NPS) defined cultural resources in the Cultural Resource Management Guidelines as being:
“Those tangible and intangible aspects of cultural systems, both living and dead, that are valued by or representative of a given culture or that contain information about a culture…[They] include but are not limited to sites, structures, districts, objects, and historic documents associated with or representative of peoples, cultures, and human activities and events, either in the present or in the past. Cultural resources also can include primary written and verbal data for interpretation and understanding of those tangible resources.”
In the United States, a common Cultural Resource Management task is the implementation of a Section 106 review: CRM archaeologists determine whether federally funded projects are likely to damage or destroy archaeological sites that may be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This process commonly entails one or more archaeological field surveys.
Cultural resource management features people from a wide array of disciplines. The general education of most involved in CRM includes, but is not limited to, sociology, archaeology, architectural history, cultural anthropology, social and cultural geography, and other fields in the social sciences.
In the field of cultural resource management there are many career choices. One could obtain a career with an action agency that works directly with the NEPA or even more specifically, Native American resources. There are also careers that can be found in review agencies like the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), or the state historic preservation office (SHPO) Beyond these choices, one could also obtain a career as part of the local government and work with planning agencies, housing agencies, social service agencies, local museums, libraries, or educational institutions. Jobs at private cultural resource management companies can range from field technicians (see shovelbum) to principal investigators, project archaeologists, historic preservationists, and laboratory work. One could also become a part of an advocacy organization, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
It is commonly debated in cultural resource management how to determine whether cultural or archaeological sites should be considered significant or not. The criteria that is stated by the National Register of Historic Places is said to be able to be “interpreted in different ways so that the significance… may be subjectively argued for many cultural resources.” Another issue that arises among scholars is that “protection does not necessarily mean preservation.” Any public projects occurring near the cultural resource can have adverse effects. Development plans for a proposed project may not be able to be changed to limit impact and to avoid damage to the resource.
The vocation of management in cultural and creative sectors is the subject of research and improvement initiatives, by organizations such as Arts and Business which take a partnership approach to involving professional business people in running and mentoring arts organizations. Some universities now offer vocational degrees.
The management of cultural heritage is underpinned by academic research in archaeology, ethnography and history. The broader subject is also underpinned by research in sociology and culture studies.
Understanding the traditional cultures of all peoples (Indigenous or not) is essential in mitigating the adverse impact of development and ensuring that intervention by more developed nations is not prejudicial to the interests of local people or results in the extinction of cultural resources.