• To own or not to own: Is that the question?

    “Who Owns the Past?” “Who Owns Antiquity?” “Who Owns Culture?” “Who Owns Art?” “Who Owns Objects?” “Who Owns History?” A flurry of similar-sounding questions has been circulating in the media for some time now. Varying on the same theme, they are used as headlines in an array of formats: books, articles, lectures, panel discussions, etc.

    While these questions raise some interesting points, we would like to ask some of our own:

    1. “Who Owns __?” advocates imply: The right to ownership and possession of artifacts trumps all other considerations.

    SAFECORNER asks: By focusing on ownership, are we neglecting the single most important point: the discovery of our yet-unknown past through protection, and the proper excavation of, ancient sites and tombs and burial grounds? What about the “past” / “antiquity” / “culture” / “art” / “objects” / “history” that remains underground? What part do these arguments have in stemming the plunder of cultural heritage caused by looting and the illicit antiquities trade? ...

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  • Five Years On, SAFE Remembers the Looting of the Iraq Museum

    “The way you remember the past depends upon your hope for the future.”-Story Musgrave, astronaut

    Five years after the looting of the Iraq Museum, SAFE is still the global leader in commemorating this tragic event and making sure that its lessons are not forgotten. Cultural heritage around the world remains vulnerable to looting and destruction, but sometimes the most powerful gesture of commitment to cultural heritage is a simple gesture.

    Between April 10 and 12, 2003, the world watched as the Iraq Museum in Baghdad fell victim to rampant looting and destruction. Despite the efforts of the Museum’s staff-and repeated warnings from international experts that the Museum was vulnerable-the building remained unguarded as looters stole priceless artifacts and destroyed valuable museum archives. ...

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  • Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War

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    Review of “Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War” April 9 2008, National Press Club, Washington D.C.

    “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.” ~ as seen above the door of Kabul’s Museum in Afghanistan

    On April 9, 2008 members of academia, press, SAFE and the public gathered together at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. to voice concern over the continuation of illegal looting in Iraq since April 2003. The panel of assembled experts included Lawrence Rothfield, Director of the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center, Col. Matthew Bogdanos, USMC Reserves, Donny George Youkhanna, former Director-General of the Iraq Museum, Patty Gerstenblith, Professor of Law at DePaul College of Law, McGuire Gibson, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chicago and Corine Wegener, President of the U.S. ...

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  • Are Strings Attached?

    Today’s New York Times article When Strings Are Attached, Quirky Gifts Can Limit Universities rekindles concerns over the ethical and moral issues of big donations to educational institutions.

    Two years after the announcement of the $300 million gift from private collector Shelby White to New York University to finance a new Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), the furor seems to have faded, if not completely disappeared. Ms. White, who has been criticized for allegedly collecting objects that are looted from their countries of origin, recently returned a number of disputed objects to Italy.

    Robert K. Durkee, vice president and secretary of Princeton was quoted in the article that “Institutions do get shaped by the interests of donors”. We can only hope that the fears of Randall White, a professor of anthropology at NYU for 25 years, who resigned his honorary position with the university’s existing Center for Ancient Studies in protest over NYU’s acceptance of the gift are unfounded.

    According to its website, “ISAW is a center for advanced scholarly research and graduate education, intended to cultivate comparative and connective investigations of the ancient world.” Perhaps the study and “analysis of artifacts”, also mentioned on ISAW’s website, will emphasize the importance of documentation and context, so that such investigations may be possible.

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  • The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq

    Yesterday marked the London launch of the book The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, edited by Peter Stone and Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly.

    The book is being released on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum with the sad acknowledgment that cultural heritage in Iraq is still in a dire state. The book is highly personal, representing the intimate and varied experiences of a number of individuals who were involved at different levels. The contributor list reads like a who’s who of the cultural heritage field.

    Though the book’s spotlight is on Iraq, the issues and lessons brought up can be applied to any number of conflict areas. The discussion that followed Prof Stone’s presentation of the book highlighted the need to learn from the mistakes of Iraq and look forward to new solutions and attitudes in order to safeguard the world’s cultural heritage in times of conflict.

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