World Archaeological Congress resolution — followup

Larry RothfieldUpdate2 Comments

Leif Isaksen blogs expressing concern that “the World Archaeological Congress’s voice with regard to archaeological ethics in conflict situations has been undermined by those whose task it is to support it.” Isaksen adds more detail to the kerfuffle over what exactly was passed by whom at the WAC congress and whether this represents official WAC policy. WAC’s website clarifies as well:

A resolution suggesting that no archaeologists or cultural heritage specialists assist the military in planning to protect the cultural heritage was passed by the Plenary session of the WAC-6 Congress for consideration by the World Archaeological Congress Assembly, Council and Executive but was not approved as a formal statement of the position of the organisation as a whole.

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Lawrence Rothfield's research focuses broadly on the politics and sociology of culture, and in particular on cultural policy. The founding faculty director of the University of Chicago's Cultural Policy Center, he has written or edited volumes on topics ranging from censorship and public funding of museums (Unsettling "Sensation": Arts Policy Lessons from the Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy), to state–level humanities policy, to the impact of cultural "scenes" on regional urban development. His recent work has concentrated on illicit antiquities and the problem of protecting archaeological sites and museums from looting. Publications on that topic include an edited volume, Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War, and a book on the disastrous failure to secure Iraq's sites and museums from looting in the wake of the 2003 US invasion, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum. He is currently working on a book about the illicit antiquities market, and a separate project on the origins of modern cultural policy in Renaissance Florence.

2 Comments on “World Archaeological Congress resolution — followup”

  1. Voz Earl

    What business does a body of scientists have in taking political positions for or against a given military conflict? The WAC press release begins:

    “The World Archaeological Congress expresses its strong opposition to aggressive military action (including air strikes) against Iran by the US government, or by any other government.”

    Such organizations should stick to matters of science and respect the right of their individual members to decide such extraneous matters for themselves.

    But someone will claim that this stand is being taken specifically on the basis of the cultural heritage which would be lost in Iran and not on the basis of latent anti-American sentiment. So then, will WAC make an analysis of each future conflict and decide in some cases that air-strikes are “a-ok” whereas in others the potential damage to cultural sites outweighs any and every other consideration, such as nuclear proliferation, and so on? Or will they just make a blanket judgement that air-strikes should never be used by any government in any conflict period from now til eternity?

    Frankly, the whole exercise reeks of leftist kook-ism and is the sort of thing one would expect from the Berkeley city council rather than a serious body of scientists.

    Voz Earl

  2. Paul Barford

    Why is it „leftist kookism” for any group of people to express an opposition to war and refuse collectively to take part in its legitimization? Why NOT archaeologists? Why not bus drivers, hairdressers, journalists, stamp collectors, pharmacists, childcare organizations etc etc. In WHOSE name is any war prosecuted?

    It’s worth pointing out here that in certain milieus, archaeologists just cannot win. Just a few weeks ago on the basis of what James Cuno wrote, they were being criticized by portable antiquity collectors for allegedly legitimizing “nationalist sentiments” by their stance on cultural heritage. Now when they issue a statement suggesting they will refuse to be used to in any way legitimize the attempts of one nation or group of nations to terrorize another into compliance, they are criticized as “leftist kooks” for that too. Should a ‘body of scientists’ not take a stand on moral issues – ever? Or is it not precisely such bodies that should speak out?

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