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

November 20, 2008

An interdisciplinary conference at the Centre for Research in the Arts,
Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge
11-13 December 2008

Culture Wars examines the fate of heritage in the wake of 21st-century
military conflict. Focusing on historical monuments, archaeological sites,
and cultural and human landscapes that have been put at risk or destroyed in
recent conflicts, this timely conference brings together speakers from
museums, libraries and NGOs; archaeology, classics, and law; and experts
from Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Coinciding with the Babylon
exhibition at the British Museum, it also presents the British Museum’s
Operation Iraqi Heritage.

Culture Wars are struggles played out within and beyond the arenas of
military conflict. Where the word ‘Culture’ once denoted benign enrichment,
it is now a term conjuring up images of violent polarisation and conflicting
interpretations. Different groups are now prepared to defend their
respective ideas of where their cultural heritage begins and ends, who are
its guardians and the role this guardianship entails. Entrenched positions
strain ‘the nexus between cultural heritage and human rights’ as is evident
in the Balkans, or in the Taliban’s systematic destruction of the Bamiyan
Buddhas in Afghanistan.

Such critical moments demand an urgent debate about the changing meaning of
cultural heritage and its attendant symbols. Whether the violation is
carried out against ancient monuments or modern icons of corporate
achievement such as New York’s Twin Towers, the underlying motivation for
such acts points to an unshakable belief in the validity of a specific
cultural viewpoint. Preservation moves perilously close to iconoclasm.
Professor Mary Jacobus, Director of CRASSH, points to ‘the urgency
surrounding the preservation of cultural sites and historical monuments in
times of war’ as the driving force behind this conference, a collaboration
between CRASSH, the Getty Research Institute, and the McDonald Institute for
Archaeological Research.

A full programme, list of speakers, and registration information (including
online booking) can be found on the website at Registration deadline is 5 December
2008. Any questions may be directed to Anna Malinowska, conference
coordinator, at

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