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Debate | What is Cultural Heritage? And for Whom?

  • EU Delegation 2175 K St. NW (map)

What is Cultural Heritage? And for Whom?

The destruction of elements of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palmyra has stunned people around the world. Landmarks immediately recognizable from school textbooks across the globe are blown up before our eyes. Are those responsible for this material annihilation hoping somehow to obliterate their memories in pursuit of absolute sovereignty?

The diverse histories of ancient development of settlements, cities, principalities and cultures offer an element of hope in a world of crises and wars.  And yet they are being systematically attacked and destroyed. The devastation is intentional, ideologically motivated, and portrayed by the perpetrators as a declaration of war against established hegemonies and richly divergent cultures. This attacks our basic understanding of cultural heritage, of peaceful coexistence despite religious and ideological differences, forcing us to ask: What is cultural heritage? And for whom?

Introduced by David O’Sullivan, EU Ambassador to the U.S.

Nico Prucha holds a PhD in Arabic Language and Literature and Terrorism from the University of Vienna, Austria. He recently joined the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at the Department for War Studies, King’s College London after being awarded the VOX-Pol's Research Fellowship under its Researcher Mobility Programme, and is currently researchingViral Aspects of Jihadism: The Lingual and Ideological Basis of Online Propaganda and the Spill Over to Non-Arabic Networks. His work for VOX-Pol at the ICSR also includes establishing a lexicon of Arabic keywords frequently used within Arabic and non-Arabic propaganda videos and writings. Prucha’s work focuses on the analyses and deciphering of primary Arabic-language jihadist propaganda content on- and offline. He specializes in jihadi online activities related to Syria, Iraq and the organized opposition. Main aspects of his research cover the textual and audio-visual content of jihadist activity online and how the ideology in parts morphs from Arabic to English and German language clusters. Prucha’s research interests also lie in analyzing the blend of languages and elements employed in social media strategies by groups such as the “Islamic State” to incite and recruit, and the lingual and theological analysis of extremist Sharia law interpretation of hostage taking and executions, and how videos as well as social media outlets convey these acts.

Rosemary Joyce is Professor of Anthropology with the University of California, Berkeley. She received her degrees from Cornell University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Ph.D.). Rosemary Joyce is a member of the Federal Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which is part of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and advises the president on the U.S. reaction to inquiries from foreign states asking for support in protecting their cultural heritage. Joyce is one of three members with expertise in archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, or related fields.Joyce is concerned about the destruction of cultural heritage. In the 1990s she gave testimony on behalf of the Society for American Archaeology at a US State Department hearing on cultural preservation in Honduras. She is teaching a course called “Cultural Policy: Cultural Heritage and Cultural Diplomacy” at the University of California Washington Center (UCDC) in fall 2015, introducing students to the broad implications of the control, management, investigation, presentation, and interpretation of collections of things considered of cultural significance. Joyce has written numerous books, including Material Relations; Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives; and The Languages of Archaeology.

Martin Perschler, Ph.D. directs the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, an overseas grant program of the Cultural Heritage Center in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Prior to this appointment, Martin worked for nine years at the National Park Service headquarters in Washington, DC, where he served as editor of the journal, CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship, and in an acting capacity as Chief Historian of the Service. He began his career in cultural preservation working in the field of architectural documentation for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Martin has a Ph.D. in the history of architecture from the University of Virginia and practical experience in historic preservation in the United States and France. He has taught several courses on the history of architecture at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Moderated by Emmanuel Kattan, director of the British Council’s New York office.

This program is part of the series Iconoclash , an initiative of EUNIC (the European Union National Institutes for Culture), supported by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States in Washington DC, and the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress at New York University's Washington branch. Nico Prucha’s participation has been made possible with support from the Austrian Cultural Forum, Embassy of Austria.

When: Tuesday, November 10, 3 – 5 pm
Where: EU Delegation, 2175 K St. NW, Metro: Foggy Bottom
No charge: Tickets and Registration:

David O’Sullivan:

Nico Prucha:

Rosemary Joyce:

Emmanuel Kattan:

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