AIA Supports Workshop Exploring Heritage and Conflict
October 28, 2009

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The AIA is supporting Heritage in Conflict and Consensus: New Approaches to the Social, Political, and Religious Impact of Public Heritage in the 21st Century, a workshop that will take place at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Bard College November 9–13. Participants in the four-day workshop will discuss the destruction of cultural heritage during conflict (military and non-military) and the controversies surrounding the role of interpretation and misinterpretation of the past in these conflicts.

The AIA spoke with workshop organizer Neil Silberman, who is a Near Eastern archaeologist and UMass Amherst faculty member and former director of the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage in Belgium from 2004 to 2007. Silberman is also the president of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Interpretation and Presentation and a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY magazine since the late 1980s. Silberman explained “the workshop looks at heritage and conflict in a new way. Normally when we talk about conflict over heritage, it’s about war…. We’re trying to look at all the different ways that heritage might cause other kinds of conflict, including economic, social, religious and political conflicts—even conflicts between locals and tourists.” Themes to be considered at the conference include community, faith, diaspora, and burial, ancestors, and human remains. Through discussions and workshops, participants will attempt to formulate an agenda that will help scholars avoid situations of conflict in the future.

After the two days of presentations in Amherst, the second portion of the workshop will take place at Bard College, located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 90 miles north of New York City. At Bard, invited participants will hold smaller roundtable discussions. Silberman and Elizabeth Chilton (event co-coordinator and head of UMass Amherst’s Anthropology Department) want to create a permanent working group out of this project that will continue grapple with the problem of mediating heritage conflicts in a substantive way after the conference.

Silberman hopes that AIA members in attendance will enrich their views of the field of archaeology through the conference’s discussions of what happens to excavated sites after archaeologists leave, as well as the impacts on the local community, how interpretation plays into political conflict, how creation of tourists sites at archaeological excavations impacts of the conservation of the site itself, and the whole social context of community. The topics should be of great interest to all archaeologists and followers of archaeology as the discipline continues to move in the direction of increasing social responsibility.

Silberman and Chilton were inspired to create this worshop after participating in a Middle Eastern project called PUSH for Peace that brought together Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians in an effort to reconcile some of the conflicts over heritage in the Middle East. Silberman and Chilton believe that approaches taken by the members of PUSH for Peace can be used in other regions in the world. A speaker from PUSH for Peace will be attending the conference.

The portion of the workshop held at UMass Amherst November 9 and 10 is open to everyone. Events include lectures by prominent archaeologists, architects, planning, and public policy experts, and representatives from international organizations such as the National Committees of the Blue Shield, the International Coalition of Site of Conscience, and PUSH for Peace. The roundtables and smaller discussion groups in the second half of the conference are not open to the public.

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