Trafficking Cultural Materials: Appropriation of Mankind's Property
April 7, 2016
Archaeological sites and historical artifacts are property that belongs to all of mankind. Preserving them and keeping them accessible are prerequisites to ensuring people can learn about and from history. Their material existence constitutes an important foundation of our self-awareness as human beings. Ancient history is a collective good which belongs to everyone and requires the protection of local officials. For the most part, they accept the role of protecting the splendor of their ancient heritage against collectors’ greed. However, recent political turmoil has led to the ransacking and trafficking of antiquities in the Middle East on an immense scale.
This panel brought new voices into the current discussion. NYU Washington, DC welcomed Douglas Boin, Tess Davis and Iris Gerlach, who discussed trafficking as the irreversible appropriation of cultural properties which contribute to humanity’s richness. Their destruction and, to no lesser degree, their trafficking destroy invaluable foundations in the self-awareness of mankind’s history and development. How can reproductions replace the fundamental contribution of the originals? How does the growing demand for antique cultural treasures impact preservation and protection? How does private ownership relate to common property in terms of U.N. standards? Alexander Nagel moderated the discussion.
Douglas Boin, Assistant Professor of History, Saint Louis University
Douglas Boin, an internationally-recognized authority on the archaeology, religion, and history of the Roman world. He is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Saint Louis University.
He is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Ostia in Late Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Coming Out Christian in the Roman World (Bloomsbury Press, 2015), and his research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and the Spanish newspaper El Paîs. Currently, he is writing a new social and cultural history of Late Antiquity for the publisher Wiley.
Other scholarship has appeared in the American Journal of Archaeology, the Journal of Roman Studies, the Journal of Early Christian Studies, and the Papers of the British School at Rome. His advocacy on behalf of cultural heritage issues has been featured in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (with Thomas Finan) and The International New York Times.
He has also written for popular venues, with essays appearing at TIME ("What We Get Wrong about the Fall of Rome," originally published at the History News Network), The Huffington Post, Biblical Archaeology, BuzzFeed, Wonders & Marvels, the religion-news site On Faith, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. From 2010-2013 he taught in the Department of Classics at Georgetown University.
Tess Davis, Executive Director, Antiquities Coalition
Tess Davis is a lawyer and archaeologist by training, and Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition. She oversees the organization’s work to fight cultural racketeering worldwide. Since 2013, Davis has been affiliated with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow. Prior to her current position, she was executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, a not-for-profit institution based in Washington, DC. She previously worked for the nongovernmental organization Heritage Watch in Cambodia, first as Project Coordinator, and then as assistant Director. Her career began at the Archaeological Institute of America.
Iris Gerlach, Head, Sanaa (Yemen) Branch of the Orient Department, German Archaeological Institute
Iris Gerlach, an archaeologist with a focus on Near Eastern Archaeology, Classical Archaeology and Assyriology, has been head of the Sanaa (Yemen) branch of the Orient Department at the German Archaeological Institute since 2000. Director of various archaeological projects in Yemen, Ethiopia and Qatar, her research interests are South Arabian and pre-Aksumite archaeology; cultural contacts, especially trade and migration; temples and religion; ancient water management; burial rites; and art history. She heads restoration and capacity building projects in Yemen and Ethiopia. In 2011, she became director of monitoring and awareness-raising projects dealing with the looting of museums, illegal excavations of archaeological sites and other destruction of cultural heritage in Yemen.
Alexander Nagel, Research Associate, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
Moderated by Alexander Nagel, a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Originally from Berlin, Germany, Nagel received an MA from Humboldt University Berlin in 2003, and a PhD from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2010. He is supporting the work of communities who preserve heritage sites and document the illicit trade in antiquities, and has lectured on the heritage preservation of Yemen, Greece, Iran and the Middle East worldwide.