"Appropriating the Past: the uses and abuses of cultural heritage"

To inaugurate the new Durham University Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage, there will be a “multi-disciplinary conference” to be held at Durham University, UK from the 6th-8th of July.  Here is the description:

This two-day conference should be of wide appeal to archaeologists, anthropologists, philosophers, lawyers and others with an interest in the ethical principles and problems associated with the concept of cultural heritage.  The meeting will open with four invited lectures to introduce the conference theme and relate it to the specific aims and methods of the new Centre.   

In recent years, the right of archaeologists to erect ‘Keep Out’ signs around what they conceive of as the archaeological record has come under increasing challenge from other interest groups which may assert equal or superior rights to access, utilise and manage those remains, or to determine their significance.  So a decorated bronze vessel which for an archaeologist is primarily a source of information to be extracted by academically approved methods may be, to other eyes, a sacred or tabooed object, an anchor of social or cultural identity, a work of art, or a legitimate source of hard cash.  These different perceptions correspond to different forms of appropriating the past, and they can give rise to sharp practical conflicts.    

This conference will explore some of the key ethical issues raised by the competing modes in which archaeologists and others appropriate the past.  These include: rights to interpret the past and tell stories about it; handling the sacred; the concept and ethics of birthright; local versus national versus international rights over sites, antiquities and artefacts; roles and responsibilities of museums; duties/rights of international intervention to defend antiquities; study and custodianship of human remains; looting and the antiquities trade; the economic exploitation of sites and resources; duties of preservation for future generations; the use of destructive research techniques; the roles of codes of ethics and of legal frameworks.

Keynote Speakers 

Professor James O. Young (Philosophy, University of Victoria, Canada)
Professor Robert Layton (Anthropology, Durham University, UK)
Dr John Curtis OBE (Keeper, Dept. of Middle East, British Museum, UK)

Ms Janet Ulph (Law, Durham University, UK).

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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