Tuesday, January 18, 2011

10 Easy Ways To Be Involved In Cultural Heritage Activism

I wish I could tell you that being a cultural heritage activist is almost as easy as being an environmentalist. If I had only known back in my days as a green club president that those months of going to rallies, persuading the school to recycle as part of a national contest, and handing out donuts to public transportation-riders would be some of the easiest activism I would ever participate in. For the rest of us with issues that have not already been picked up by a large majority of the country, times are tougher and work is harder. Being involved in cultural heritage issues, particularly issues of the illicit antiquities trade, can seem ever so slightly overwhelming, particularly because the starting place is fuzzy and the work seems like it’s an all-or-nothing, out-there-in-the-fields-chasing-looters-off-bad-ass-style situation. I’m here to assure you that there are all kinds of options and starting points available to you. Including chasing looters off like a bad-ass, if that’s what you’re into. Here are ten ways you can start getting involved:

1. Write a paper about this stuff

If you’re in a class that’s cool with proposing your own research topics, take the opportunity and write about an aspect of cultural heritage issues that get to you. It will a) finally give you the excuse to read some of the many books/blogs/articles out there that you’ve been meaning to read, b) give you a real leg up on building a scholarly familiarity with the issues, c) expose your professor to them also, and d) probably earn you big points for originality.

2. Volunteer for an organization. Like SAFE.

Cultural heritage non-profits ALWAYS need volunteers to keep their ship afloat. Some, like SAFE and ARCA, offer digital volunteering opportunities that make it easy for you to make time and allow you to help save the world while wearing pajamas and eating microwaveable burritos. You could also take a more physically active approach and volunteer for a museum, historical society, the National Park Service, etc.

3. Use those summer internships wisely

There are a few choice organizations and institutions doing good work for the cultural heritage scene that offer internships for all you rising stars. From the Smithsonian Center for Folklike and Cultural Heritage to your local historical society or archaeological society, there are plenty of opportunities for simultaneously being a good human being and making your resume look snazzy.

4. Ask your museums to be honest about their acquisitions policies and their collecting history

Museums may be a great place with great intentions for great learning, but it doesn’t mean they haven’t collected looted antiquities in the past. Objects without context are objects without meaning, which defeats the purpose of them being in the museum in the first place. Organize campus support to demand honesty from your local (or not so local) museums and make some noise about the importance of preserving history and preventing shady collecting habits.

5. Get involved in excavations
Excavations these days basically run on volunteers because there’s no money for history. Help a reliable organization/institution get to the artifacts before a looter does and know you’ll be directly saving history. Even if that just means grunt work.

6.Consider your career options
Cultural heritage issues are, unfortunately for the world, quite numerous but, fortunately for you, offer a plethora of career opportunities. I would need a flow chart to accurately demonstrate just how many and how important each one is. Ranging from archaeological fieldwork to the State Department/FBI to UNESCO to cultural heritage organizations to the Smithsonian to law enforcement to cultural heritage law to museums and keeping them honest from the inside out. You have options in too many areas to count on two hands. Consider them all wisely.

7. Blog about it.
This may be the only blog I know of that focuses on the illicit antiquities trade/other cultural heritage issues from an explicitly collegiate point of view for other collegiate points of view. Please tell me if I’m wrong. The point being there can always be more blogs by smart youngish people about these issues.

8. Join the up-coming SAFE On Campus campaign to spread awareness about the illicit antiquities trade on college campuses.
There will be activism kits, online academic/social resources, and maybe cool-beans stencils you can spray on stuff middle-school style. It’s going to be very exciting and cutting edge, but more on that later

9. Rant about it.

People are interested in people who get passionate about things. Did you know some people collect ancient human bodies? And that looters use bulldozers and backhoes to tear up ancient sites to get to the good stuff? And that collectors who knowingly buy looted antiquities can donate their collections to museums for a huge tax break? These things make me angry and I usually end up ranting about it to someone close or not so close to me. Someone ends up learning something they didn’t know before and that these things make other people react strongly. Then they start reading and they start ranting and it’s a big happy circle of awareness by rant.

10. Share this blog with your friends, professors, employers, colleagues, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, frenemies, BFFs, and acquaintances.

I’ll talk the talk if you just copy and paste.

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