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Heritage and Armed Conflict in the 21st century

Culture Wars: Heritage and Armed Conflict in the 21st century

Culture Wars: Heritage and Armed Conflict in the 21st century

Thursday, 11 December to Saturday, 13 December
Location: The Fitzwilliam Museum/Gonville & Caius, Stephen Hawking Building


Closing date for registration is 5 December 2008. Fees range from £20 – £60.

The online booking can be found by clicking onto the link on the right hand side of this page.


Professor Mary Jacobus (CRASSH)
Dr Joanna Kostylo (CRASSH)

Warfare and civil strife of the sort recently witnessed in the Balkans and the Middle East become crucibles in which core convictions about identity are boiled down to their essential elements. As material manifestations of culture, sites and monuments are at once metaphorical weapons and physical casualties of war.  Situations of intense conflict challenge our assumptions about the role of institutions as ‘Keepers of Culture’ and give rise to seemingly insoluble contradictions. Focusing on boundaries, networks, and cultural transmission, this combined CRASSH, Getty Research Institute, and Macdonald Institute conference offers a timely opportunity to test ideas and responses to the acute circumstances created by civil and political conflict.

Controversies arise when heritage sites are simultaneously viewed as cultural, religious, aesthetic, and educational artifacts. At once ‘theirs’ and ‘ours’, competing ideas of heritage are mutually exclusive, while fragile conceptual polarities such as local and universal tend to collapse. The fraught intersection of material heritage, local geopolitics, and the universalist mission calls for an urgent reevaluation of how we manage ‘Culture’ in a culturally fragmented world. With growing frequency, war is not confined to nation-states, but involves ethnic, sectarian, and insurgent groups that cross or contest political boundaries. The conference examines issues raised during and after the Gulf, Balkan, and Afghanistan Wars, with a focus on what (paradoxically) is known as ‘immovable’ heritage:  historical monuments, archaeological sites, and cultural and human landscapes. It poses the following questions:

•    How does the nature of 21st-century conflict bear on immoveable heritage?
•    Are international conventions appropriate to recent scenarios?
•    Why are sites destroyed and to what ends?
•    Is intervention ethically justifiable?
•    What are the appropriate uses of expertise?
•    Does the intensity of the contest over heritage open paths to reconciliation?
•    What new approaches to knowledge sharing can help bridge divides?
•    What is involved in stewarding culture in a post-ownership world?

Responding to a growing concern about on endangered sites in the Middle East and elsewhere, the conference will focus on the following main themes:

•    Cult and Culture: Iconoclasm and the Museum
•    Iconoclasts And Idolators: the Destruction Of Cultural Heritage.
•    The Laws of War and Cultural Policy: Transnational and Internal Disputes
•    Contemporary Conflicts and the Ethics of Intervention
•    Culture and Conciliation: Stewarding Culture in a Post-Ownership World

Confirmed speakers include:

Abbas Alhussainy (Former Chair of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage)
Michael Barry (Princeton University)
Reinhard Bernbeck (Binghamton University (SUNY))
Patrick Boylan (City University, London)
Hugo Clarke (Headquarters 3 (United Kingdom) Division)
John Curtis (British Museum)
Saad Eskander (Iraq National Library)
Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly (Archaeologist – Journalist, Al Akhbar newspaper)
Tatiana Flessas (LSE)
Dario Gamboni (Université de Genève)
Jan Hladík (UNESCO)
Jonathan Lee (Researcher and Cultural Advisor)
Jolyon Leslie (Aga Khan Foundation)
Margaret Miles (UC, Irvine)
David Myers (Getty Conservation Institute)
Alistair Northedge (Université de Paris I)
Roger O’Keefe (Cambridge)
András Riedlmayer (Harvard University)
Marie-Louise Sorensen (McDonald Institute)
Peter Stone (Newcastle University)
General Barney White-Spunner (GOC 3 ( United Kingdom) Division)
Oliver Urquhart-Irvine (British Library)


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Archaeological excavation affected by war in Georgia

Walls of Nokalakevi

Walls of Nokalakevi

The University of Winchester’s Department of Archaeology has been deeply affected by the outbreak of war in Georgia. A team of British archaeologists had been on an expedition to Georgia to excavate a site in rural Mingrelia, near the city of Senaki, shortly before the hostilities began. All of the team returned before the war started, however they fear for the safety of their Georgian colleagues.The British team, part of the Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi (AGEN) co-directed by University of Winchester archaeologist Dr Paul Everill, included 10 students from universities across the UK and seven experienced archaeological and specialist staff. AGEN takes British students annually to Georgia to excavate alongside Georgian archaeologists, students and volunteers.

“Fortunately, the last of our British team had left the day before the conflict began – but we are still deeply concerned for our colleagues and friends living in Georgia,” explained Dr Everill, who has been Co-Director of AGEN since 2002.

Dr Everill directed the recent excavation, which ran from 4 July-1 August at the historic fortified site of Nokalakevi, Mingrelia. The conflict first broke out on 7 August.

“We were aware of heightened military activity during the recent excavation, but we did not feel particularly threatened,” Dr Everill commented. “It was obvious there was a fair bit of tension, but there was no way of knowing what was about to happen. We have recently started to get word from our colleagues in Georgia. An email on the 20 August said that Russian troops have actually been in Nokalakevi itself, but the picture is far from complete and very worrying.”

Paul Everill recording trench at Nokalakevi

Paul Everill recording trench at Nokalakevi

Earlier this summer, the University of Winchester began working with the Georgian Archaeology Commission to help set new standards and programme specifications for archaeology courses at Georgian universities. Dr Everill has been strengthening links between Winchester and Georgian universities over the past months, working towards future student placement schemes and Winchester’s growing involvement with AGEN.

“A small, regional museum in Nokalakevi houses much of the material that we have excavated over the years, and of course there is a concern the museum might become a target for looting,” Dr Everill said. “A few years ago £1,500 was raised to help repair the local museum and our ‘dig house’. It is heartbreaking to think that this good work might have been undone, but of course our main concern is for our friends and colleagues in Georgia.

“We are an expedition of archaeologists and historians, but we all share a love of Georgia, its culture and its people. We hope to find some way of raising whatever funds we can to eventually help the country rebuild.”

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