Baig’s Forts and Palaces Photobook Released To Much Fanfare

Amita Baig’s 256-page photo book Forts and Palaces of India was officially released to the public at an event attended by a long list of celebrities and superstars.  The crowd lauded the author for the 25 years she has dedicated to cultural heritage protection and preservation in India, and they praised the photography team for illuminating the book with over 300 color photos.  The book launch was an opportunity to celebrate a work as much as a message.  Baig said, “I strongly feel that we need to develop a positive attitude towards our cultural heritage and not simply treat them as picture postcards. Forts and Palaces of India depicts the richness of such monuments in India and even presents how they came into being and are still as beautiful as they have been even after so many years of their existence.”
Jaisalmer Fort, built in 1156AD in Indian state of Rajastan,
and one of the largest forts in the world (Photo: Adrian Sulc) 
Posted in Amita Baig, architecture, endangered sites, heritage, India, preservation | Leave a comment

The Great Hall at National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Photo: Nicholas Merkelson
The Great Hall at the National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D.C.)
Once the largest room in America, the Great Hall was originally conceived to display miniature models required of inventors when the building housed the United States Patent Office.  The space also served as the first national museum, and it was here that the Declaration of Independence was publicly displayed between 1841 and 1871.  The guests at Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball passed through this room to join the receiving line in what is now called the Lincoln Gallery.  Following a disastrous fire in 1877, which severely damaged other portions of the third floor of the building, this area was redone in the American Victorian Renaissance style to which it has now been restored.
BRAVO! showcases individuals who have brought the performing arts to life, beginning with P.T. Barnum, who raised the curtain on modern entertainment in the late-19th century and continuing through the present.
Champions salutes the dynamic American sports figures whose impact has extended the athletic realm and made them a part of the larger story of the nation.  A lively combination of portraits, artifacts, memorabilia and videos enhances both exhibitions.
Casey Stengel, 1890-1975
(Photo: Nicholas Merkelson)
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Museum Memorializes Sichuan Earthquake Victims

Beichuan, the most heavily damaged town in the Sichuan earthquake zone, will soon become a museum and memorial to the victims of the May 12, 2008 earthquake.  The local government announced recently that the town’s ruins, including collapsed and leaning homes, schoolhouses and offices, will be preserved in their current wrecked state.  Officials believe the 8,600 dead, about half of Beichuan’s population, will be best remembered if the town’s fragile remnants are left standing rather than demolished.  80 percent of the old part of the town and 20 percent of the new part was destroyed that day.
Aftermath of May 12, 2008 earthquake at Beichuan
(Photo: Reuters; more photos here)
Concerns have been raised as to if and how to exhume the remaining hundreds of missing bodies, whether the survivors will ever be able to properly mourn the loss of loved ones still buried.  The founding of the earthquake museum touches on issues of remembrance and the commemoration of tragic events.  By visiting such museums and memorials, do people affected by this (or other unpredictable natural disasters) experience cathartic release from their loss?  As a preserved site of negative heritage, does Beichuan withhold the collective negative memory of an unavoidable catastrophe and offer a place for healing and reconciliation?  Or will it forever be somewhere to avoid?
I have written elsewhere on the topic of memory and the importance confronting negative heritage (see, “Remember to Remember at Holocaust Museums” and “Negative Memory Bulldozed in Sri Lanka”, and my argument remains much the same: museums dedicated to traumatic events engage a wide audience in the necessary consumption of grief, allowing society as a whole to remember and commemorate people and the past in a way that prevents us from forgetting our collective history entirely.
Posted in Beichuan, earthquake, heritage, memorial museums, memory, negative heritage, trauma | Leave a comment

Repatriation: inevitable conflict, endless debate

Finger bones excavated in Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, Spain (Photo: Nicholas Merkelson)

Dr. Robert Kelly, an anthropology professor at the University of Wyoming, submitted a short opinion piece (“Bones of Contention,” Dec. 12, 2010) to the New York Times in which he argues for the repeal of the latest NAGPRA Regulations on the Disposition of Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains.  The regulations, effective May 14, 2010, require American museums, universities, and institutions receiving federal funds, and therefore subject to NAGPRA mandates, to repatriate all culturally unaffiliated sets of human remains in their collections.  Under the new rules, according to Kelly, control of remains must be transferred to Native American tribes regardless of whether cultural affiliation can be accurately determined.  In his and other archaeologists’ view, any tribe, federally recognized or not, is capable of claiming remains as their own.  Kelly writes, “The main objective, it seems, is to get rid of the remains however possible, as quickly as possible.”

I feel particularly invested in this issue after completing my master’s dissertation, titled “NAGPRA, 1990-2010: Consultation, Communication, Collaboration (‘Three C’s’) As Best Practice for Native American Repatriation Cases.”  Rather than arguing the merits of scientific analysis versus repatriation, I instead advocate a three-step best practice approach towards the mutual agreement on the disposition of human remains in American collections.  Below is the abstract of this paper.

In November of this year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  Heralded as a major piece of human rights legislation, NAGPRA has made great strides in its twenty years in revaluing Native American religion and culture as a vital part of the national heritage.  The anniversary year provides a useful opportunity to evaluate the current state and future direction of repatriation in the United States.  In this paper I explicate the “Three C’s”–consultation, communication, collaboration–as a best practice for parties to Native American repatriation cases.  Where the debate is widely viewed as one between culture and science, I argue instead that Native and scientific ways of knowing about the past are equally valuable towards understanding the human condition and our species’ shared cultural heritage.  Based on secondary source research and personal communication with repatriation scholars around the United States, I discuss important historic preservation and Native American religious freedom laws that have influenced how NAGPRA has been applied to the diversity of requests for the return of human remains and cultural objects.  Using the Zuni Tribe’s approach to repatriation as a positive example, I explain how parties interested in a case should follow the Three C’s to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome.  Consultation, communication, and collaboration as a recommended method of discourse may foster constructive relationships between groups with historically conflicting viewpoints, namely Native Americans, museums, archaeologists, and anthropologists.

Interested in learning more about this paper and/or discussing repatriation of human remains and cultural property?  Please email cultureinperil (at) gmail (dot) com.

Posted in anthropology, archaeology, cultural property, culture, Culture in Peril, heritage, NAGPRA, Native American, New York Times, repatriation | Leave a comment

Repatriation: inevitable conflict, endless debate

Photo: Nicholas Merkelson
Dr. Robert Kelly, an anthropology professor at the University of Wyoming, submitted a short opinion piece (“Bones of Contention,” Dec. 12, 2010) to the New York Times in which he argues for the repeal of the latest NAGPRA Regulations on the Disposition of Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains.  The regulations, effective May 14, 2010, require American museums, universities, and institutions receiving federal funds, and therefore subject to NAGPRA mandates, to repatriate all culturally unaffiliated sets of human remains in their collections.  Under the new rules, according to Kelly, control of remains must be transferred to Native American tribes regardless of whether cultural affiliation can be accurately determined.  In his and other archaeologists’ view, any tribe, federally recognized or not, is capable of claiming remains as their own.  Kelly writes, “The main objective, it seems, is to get rid of the remains however possible, as quickly as possible.”
I feel particularly invested in this issue after completing my master’s dissertation, titled “NAGPRA, 1990-2010: Consultation, Communication, Collaboration (‘Three C’s’) As Best Practice for Native American Repatriation Cases.”  Rather than arguing the merits of scientific analysis versus repatriation, I instead advocate a three-step best practice approach towards the mutual agreement on the disposition of human remains in American collections.  Below is the abstract of this paper.

In November of this year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  Heralded as a major piece of human rights legislation, NAGPRA has made great strides in its twenty years in revaluing Native American religion and culture as a vital part of the national heritage.  The anniversary year provides a useful opportunity to evaluate the current state and future direction of repatriation in the United States.  In this paper I explicate the “Three C’s”–consultation, communication, collaboration–as a best practice for parties to Native American repatriation cases.  Where the debate is widely viewed as one between culture and science, I argue instead that Native and scientific ways of knowing about the past are equally valuable towards understanding the human condition and our species’ shared cultural heritage.  Based on secondary source research and personal communication with repatriation scholars around the United States, I discuss important historic preservation and Native American religious freedom laws that have influenced how NAGPRA has been applied to the diversity of requests for the return of human remains and cultural objects.  Using the Zuni Tribe’s approach to repatriation as a positive example, I explain how parties interested in a case should follow the Three C’s to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome.  Consultation, communication, and collaboration as a recommended method of discourse may foster constructive relationships between groups with historically conflicting viewpoints, namely Native Americans, museums, archaeologists, and anthropologists.

Interested in learning more about this paper and/or discussing repatriation of human remains and cultural property?  Please email cultureinperil (at) gmail (dot) com.

Posted in anthropology, archaeology, cultural property, culture, Culture in Peril, heritage, New York Times, repatriation, science | Leave a comment

1/1/11

TO ALL FROM CULTURE IN PERIL

WISHING YOU A SAFE AND HAPPY NEW YEAR

January 1, 2011
Posted in Auld Lang Syne | Leave a comment

Long Overdue Thank You’s to Some CiP Followers

Lately I have made enthusiastic attempts to reach out the growing community of cultural heritage, museum, and archaeology bloggers, in hopes that they might find Culture in Peril a useful resource for the cross-fertilization of ideas.  My belief is that certain blogs, though they may cover similar stories in roughly the same short period of time, actually complement each other rather than rehash trite concepts ad nauseam.  To read multiple different responses about, say, Italy’s collapsing cultural heritage (for example, hereherehere, and here) not only hammers home the message of the dire straits facing Pompeii and other endangered sites around the world, but also provides a body of knowledge on which to base one’s own perspective.  Thus, I’ve made it something of a New Year’s Resolution to more frequently post comments on other blogs, to feature the work of other bloggers, and to engage my audience more directly.

That said, I’d like to return some acknowledgments to a few well-deserving and keen followers of Culture in Peril:

Damien Huffer, an American PhD candidate at Australian National University and a regular contributor to SAFECorner’s Cultural Heritage in Danger, maintains his own fascinating blog, It Surfaced Down Under.  He draws from his background in Southeast Asian archaeology to write about and offer educated insights into the global antiquities trade and its effects on research, national identity, cultural preservation.  Discussing articles and stories primarily originating in the Southern Hemisphere, Mr. Huffer “seeks to touch on that oft-discussed meme of ‘Who owns heritage?'” and “provides examples of exactly what kinds of information and data [‘context,’ in archaeology speak] have been lost to provide the market with a looted artifact.”

Contemporary Arts in Northern Nigeria is a blog written by Katrin Schulze, who is completing her doctoral work with the Department of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London).  Though her specialty focuses on the art and culture of Nigeria, I am grateful to Ms. Schulze for citing Culture in Peril as a key resource for understanding some of the continuous developments related to cultural property.  She referred her readers to a February 2010 post (“Subsistence Digging is (Not) Looting?”) for my discussion of the issue of archaeological “looting” among impoverished and marginalized populations.

Additional thanks go out to archaeo-blogger Paul Barford of Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues.  Mr. Barford has also covered the unusual partnership between the Southampton Historical Society and its metal-detecting club, Artifact Detecting Team (see this November 2010 post).  Always airing on the side of ‘good’ archaeology, he writes, “The museum refers to this scheme with that horrible cliche as a ‘win-win situation’.  But it is not a win for the archaeological record of those historical sites still surviving rampant redevelopment in Southampton’s backyards and farm fields, some going back to the colonial period.  That is compromised rather than being preserved.  That does not seem like a ‘win win’ situation to me.”

Lastly, I’d like to recognize those who have recently ‘blogrolled’ Culture in Peril: Anthropology in PracticeCultural Heritage in DangerIllicit Cultural PropertyLooting MattersSearching for Authenticity; and Sites of transformations?.

I look forward to 2011 as a year of collaboration and idea sharing between Culture in Peril and this great community!

Posted in archaeology, cultural property, culture, Culture in Peril, endangered sites, heritage, Italy, knowledge, looting, subsistence digging | Leave a comment