Current crises involving the destruction of archaeological sites in the Middle East raise questions about the very concepts of preservation and ‘heritage’ and how it developed across the 19th and 20th centuries. To many archaeologists and heritage professionals, preserving these legacies seems an obvious and unproblematic goal, from artifacts in museums and storage magazines, to archaeological sites and monuments. But what counts as ‚preservation‘, which objects or sites are preserved (or not), and who decides? So far only a few voices challenge the idea that the preservation of heritage depends on the widely accepted ‘UNESCO approach’. In this lecture and seminar, we will discuss these questions against the backdrop of the variety of approaches, technologies and practices towards preservation by local institutions and people. We will also discuss how photography and Western media have visually documented the destruction of heritage, and how their documentation and reception became deeply enmeshed in the actual crimes. Finally, we will draw comparisons between the Middle Eastern heritage debate and discussions concerning the display of non-European objects in the Berlin Humboldtforum.
Dr Mirjam Brusius is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute London and a Research Associate at the University of Oxford. She holds degrees in Art History (Berlin) and History and Philosophy of Science (University of Cambridge). Her first books revisited the early history of photography, in particular the scholarly archive and network of the photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. Her current research concerns the history of collecting, archaeology, heritage, museums across Modern Europe and the Middle East as well as the history and theory of photography from a global perspective. She previously held postdoctoral fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz — Max-Planck-Institut.