What Is Culture?

The other day, someone asked via twitter “What is culture?” It was asked in the context of travel, in the sub-context of cultural travel.

artist-at-large is all about cultural travel, but even though I can define culture for myself and how I travel, and in terms of this site, the question has had me thinking about the definition of culture, specifically how Americans today think of culture. How deep do they go when they travel for cultural reasons?

The etymology of the modern term “culture” has a classical origin. In English, the word “culture” is based on a term used by Cicero in his ‘Tusculan Disputations’, where he wrote of a cultivation of the soul or “cultura animi”, thereby using an agricultural metaphor to describe the development of a philosophical soul, which was understood teleologically (they involve aiming at goals) as the one natural highest possible ideal for human development. Samuel Pufendorf took over this metaphor in a modern context, meaning something similar, but no longer assuming that philosophy is man’s natural perfection. His use, and that of many writers after him “refers to all the ways in which human beings overcome their original barbarism, and through artifice, become fully human” — Wikipedia

The idea of culture is complex and both broad and simplistic at the same time. It can be defined by one unifying and defining detail of a group – such as language, or diet, or even the landscape where the group resides. Or it can be broad in the sense that it is a common characteristic of all of humanity.

In the sense of cultural travel though, the idea is traveling to really experience the culture of a place – food, language, art, archaeology, history, education, community – not only how people in a certain place live in that moment, but how they have evolved or devolved over time, how they got to where they are.

What does culture, or cultural travel, mean to you?

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