(P088)
Deliberate Destruction of Cultural Heritage
Location SOAS Senate House - S108
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 16:00
Sessions 1

Convenor

  • John MacGinnis (British Museum) email

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Short abstract

Submissions are invited for contributions to a panel on the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage. Applicants are invited to submit proposals for papers speculating on the deliberate destruction of material culture and the practical and theoretical considerations which this gives rise to.

Long abstract

The proposer of the panel is part of the British Museum's initiatives to train a new generation of Iraqian archaeologists in the wake of the destruction of the sites during the current wars in the region. Though he will draw on examples from this work, it is hoped that relevant papers will be offered drawing on any geograpical region, and using examples both historical and current. Theoretical papers on the way that anthropologists, such as FW Hasluck, have treated this issue are also welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Archaeology and Archives: The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq

Authors: John MacGinnis (British Museum) email
Rebecca Whiting (University of Glasgow) email

Short abstract

The conflicts of the past twenty-five years have seen appalling damage to the cultural heritage of Iraq. The archaeological inventory has suffered from looting, and archives have been requisitioned, destroyed or dispersed. This paper considers the impact of this looting and considers the implications for questions of ownership and access to cultural heritage.

Long abstract

Over the course of the past twenty-five years the cultural heritage of Iraq has suffered appalling damage. This has been the result of both the First and Second Gulf Wars and of the rule of ISIS. Archaeological sites have been looted, museums ransacked and historic monuments destroyed. Less well known is the case of five collections of Iraqi archives which were removed from Iraq through US intervention. These include records created by the Iraqi state and the Baʿth Party, as well as historic records seized by the state from the Iraqi Jewish community. The majority of these documents remain under US control today. The displacement of this documentary heritage is traced through interviews with individuals involved in the seizure and movement of the archives, as well as with those who have catalogued, preserved and maintained them. Many of the actors involved in the displacement of the archives have justified their movement as necessary for the preservation of the records, both as bearers of information and as material objects. This defense raises important questions as to whom the information and the property of a fallen state belong to, as well as to the relationship between access rights and imperatives to preserve heritage.

The Affective Violence of Cultural Heritage Destruction in Iraq and Syria

Author: Sofya Shahab (Deakin University) email

Short abstract

This paper will explore local relationships to and perceptions of the destruction of heritage in Iraq and Syria. Drawing on ethnographic research, it will establish how violence against groups' material culture can generate embodied affect that transcends time and space, and the impacts this has.

Long abstract

The construction and destruction of monuments has long been used by those who seek or hold power as a tool to cultivate desired historical narratives that support their political agendas. In Iraq and Syria, the intentional destruction of cultural property has been viewed as a form of genocide against specific peoples: as Robert Bevan convincingly argues, it is through the targeting of landscapes that enemy peoples can be dominated, terrorized, divided, or eradicated (2016: 210). Utilizing extracts from oral histories created in collaboration with Syrian and Iraqi refugees residing in Jordan and Lebanon, this paper will explore local relationships to and perceptions of 'heritage' sites. Through ethnographic encounters, it will establish how violence against groups' material culture can generate embodied affect that transcends time and space, and the impacts this has on the lived experiences of targeted populations. As such, this paper will argue that the visual culture of groups such as the Islamic State - who broadcast their images of destruction through conventional and social media channels - operates in thoroughly contemporary ways and engages in modern exertions of power that serve as a form of warfare. Additionally, it will refocus attention on those who are most directly impacted by the destruction of their heritage and contribute to current understandings of - and scholarship on - how wars are waged and how violence is experienced in an increasingly connected world.

Destruction of Material and Immaterial Cultural Heritage Since Timbuktu

Author: Rosemarie Bernard (Waseda University (Tokyo)) email

Short abstract

The destruction of World Heritage Sites at Timbuktu in 2012 caused outrage. In 2016 the International Criminal Court found perpetrators guilty of War Crimes. This paper considers the related problem of destruction of immaterial culture and of anthropological and legal discourses on the subject.

Long abstract

In June 2012 at the Battle of Timbuktu, several important architectural monuments and Sufi shrines, as well as and archives and their documents, were deliberately destroyed. The world was outraged because these were designated World Heritage sites with special significance for the history of Islamic culture in West Africa. The deliberate destruction of Timbuktu was an attack not only on its material culture but on its immaterial culture of Sufism as well, which is also elsewhere a frequent target by radical Islamic groups and by some established conservative regimes, such as Saudi Arabia.

In 2016 the International Criminal Court successfully tried the leader of the perpetrators of the destruction at Timbuktu for the deliberate destruction of 'cultural heritage' as a War Crime.

In this paper I raise the problem of the overemphasis on the material dimensions of culture that has come about as a result of the practice of World Heritage Site designation. I will compare understandings of the relationship between the destruction of material as opposed to immaterial culture in the discourses of Anthropology and of International Criminal Law. How does an Anthropological perspective on the destruction at Timbuktu differ from a legal one in regard to immaterial cultural destruction? Does either approach or a combination of both better allow us to approach critically the materialist basis of our appreciation of 'culture', especially at times of crisis?

Bells as often recklessly destroyed members of small communities and subjects of local stories or tales.

Author: Agata Felczynska (Polish Academy of Sciences) email

Short abstract

The paper will focus on explaining the need to preserve outwardly unnecessary bells as important witnesses of historical events and important members of small communities.

Long abstract

The source for this paper is research material gathered for author's doctoral thesis concerning, among others, bells and bronze item production in Poland. Bells are in contemporary research perceived mostly as musical instruments or examples of craftsmanship's production. Historically also or a source or metal, easy to gather and reuse for military purposes. The loss resulting from both world wars can never be restored or even properly estimated. Bells are used when needed, recast when broken or melt down to be reused in other form. What is rarely seen and documented- bells are also witnesses of local history, bear their place in private memories of inhabitants, are part of local, oral stories or tales and objects toward which inhabitants build emotional relationship. This aspect slips away from both art historians', historians' and anthropologists' research as it reaches beyond one way of comprehending. This ignorance concerning meaning added to an object seen from one perspective leads to a thoughtless destruction of broken, unused, tuneless bells disregarding their high historical and emotional value. Bells have the power of building/ uniting local communities, what is accurately described by Polish saying "to live under one bell" meaning to be a part of (coherent) community hearing it ringing. The paper will focus on explaining the need to preserve outwardly unnecessary bells as important witnesses of historical events and important members of small communities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.