Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sounds of an Irish Graveyard

Garrankinnefeake Sounds (mp3)

Last week, my mom was telling me about how, when visiting our grandparents’ house, all my five-year-old sister wanted to do was get McDonalds and eat it in the cemetery where my grandmother is buried, like they had done last time they visited. This kid owns my heart. (We also discovered yesterday that we both want to be mermaids when we grow up.) Personally, I can’t think of anything that sounds so nice and peaceful. I spend more than average amounts of time in cemeteries, so adding a McDouble to the experience sounds like perfection. This fondness for the company of names and stones (combined with a love for Ireland and Irish history that takes up the entire upper right portion of my heart) is what made me so excited to find this audio clip by Historic Graves, as part of the Day of Archaeology. Historic Graves is an Ireland-based grassroots heritage project designed to train local community groups in low-cost, high-tech field surveys of historic graveyards and the recording of their own oral histories. This three-minute clip of the noises in the Garrankinnefeake cemetery in east Cork is the most peaceful thing I’ve heard all week. I've been replaying it constantly since last night. What’s more, the website has an entire section devoted to audio and video of graveyard-related projects, as well as a blog. Oh, what’s that? I just made your day? You’re welcome.

Day of Archaeology 2011

I’ve been hearing about Day of Archaeology 2011 on Twitter for a while, and despite visits to the website I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was all about. It wasn’t until it actually happened that I really got it (way to go, Meg). Yesterday, roughly 400 archaeologists contributed to the Day of Archaeology website to chronicle what each was doing on one day, July 29, 2011, in order to shed light on what it is archaeologists actually do besides dig. Well, now that the day is over, you have hundreds of posts you can sift through and enjoy to learn about how individual archaeologists are working, researching, and loving their jobs.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Peter Watson discusses "unpublished and unpublishable" art crimes

The ARCAblog just published a post on some details of art-related crimes that author and historian Peter Watson recently discussed. Watson talked about unprovable details on various cases, such as the dealer Robin Symes' jail time, or lack thereof, and various cases of arson that occurred after his jail release; a murder involving the Sevso silver; and threats made to the children of a Scotland Yard agent involved in recovering a stolen Munch painting. The post quotes Watson: "This is a very unpleasant world so watch where you're going."

As sensationalized as this all sounds, it's really not. When I get super riled up about museums collecting looted objects, it's not just because destroying archaeological context is wrong; it's because getting artifacts from the ground to the museum is a trade that is as dangerous as the drug trade. Like in any other organized crime syndicate, peoples' lives are often taken or threatened in the process of getting artifacts to collectors. It's not just stuffy old white people slipping cash to a shady dealer; there is real violence and danger in this business. The next time you're in a museum, you should be questioning where these cultural objects came from the same way you would question where your meat and vegetables are being grown and how much fuel is being used to get them to you. Only, hopefully, people are not dying or being threatened in order to get your food to you.

Quality Tweets

Since finally joining Twitter two weeks ago, I've come across a lot of fascinating people that I never would have met otherwise. Apart from all the UCL students I've begun following/stalking, there are three people in particular whose tweets I look forward to the most, whose work really fascinates me, and who I would totally want to have tea with:

Steven Lubar, Director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and Director Brown University's Public Humanities Program:

Prof. Lubar recently started blogging about the behind the scenes features at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. I've interned at museums and read a lot about them, but this blog is a really interesting, entertaining, and informative perspective that gives you the bigger picture of a museum as seen by a director working constantly to improve and educate. On Twitter, Prof. Lubar's tweets and retweets on various issues and articles are always useful and sometimes pretty funny.

Nina Simon, Executive Director of The Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, California; author of The Participatory Museum:

Nina Simon's blog, Museum 2.0, is another great look at the inside operations of a museum, but this time from a smaller museum on a different coast. Ms. Simon has blogged about everything from the financial difficulties The Museum of Art and History has faced and the challenges she's had to hurdle in dealing with a museum as a business to the ridiculousness of exclamation points in museum displays. She even has a book, The Participatory Museum, which she has made available for free on the book's website. (However, I encourage you to buy it, also.) Her tweets have confirmed that, yes, she is the kind of person I would def want to be friends with.

Graham Taylor, Experiment Archaeologist and Master Potter at Potted History:

As described by his website, England, Graham Taylor offers demonstrations, workships, talks, lectures, replicas, and reconstructions in his specialties, prehistoric, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon pottery. On Twitter, he talks about pottery and his work with funny tweets like, "Making Bronze Age Beakers today for an "Emergency Order"! When did you last hear the phrase "Quick someone get me a beaker"???"


The other day my good friend, The Obedient Woman, was talking about all her warm fuzzy feelings for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and their recent Dale Chihuly exhibition. I just sat there, being all like whatever, until I had to admit that my feelings toward the MFA definitely aren’t warm or fuzzy, even when Dale Chihuly is involved. (I admit, the man has a magical way with hot sand.) The Obedient Woman and I are the kind of friends that call each other “dumb ass” affectionately and search out exhibitions of books made from human skin. (Surprisingly, not all that hard to find in Boston. Who knew.) So, as surprised as she was to hear that I’m not big on the MFA, she knows me well enough that her first question was, “Do they have a naughty collecting history?” And I was like, “GIRL, LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE WEARY HERAKLES BULL CRAP THEY’VE BEEN PULLING THE LAST TWENTY YEARS.”

After decades of denial and uncooperative bad behavior, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is finally returning the top half of a statue known as the Weary Herakles; they have owned the bust since it was gifted to them by Leon Levy and Shelby White in 1981, while the bottom half has remained in Turkey, the sad victim of a violent looting. This article does a very good job of summing up the saga from start to finish but, you know me, I’m never quite satisfied with how little the media does to reinforce the fact that the MFA totally and royally screwed the eff up. Perhaps more than any other museum, the MFA has suffered from Acute Museum Denial. Despite the obviousness of this particular case (a molding of the two pieces proved they fit PERFECTLY), they have refused to gracefully acknowledge and apologize for their heavily tainted collecting history and the blatant shows of disrespect they have engaged in by denying Turkey and other countries the return of their own cultural property.

This kind of behavior is the anti-thesis of what museums are for, or at least what they should be for. Art is not simply a pretty thing; most of the time, it is also a cultural object that holds significant meaning for the culture that created it and the modern peoples acting as custodians of that culture. The golden era of taking without questioning is over; museums are no longer the sole owners of their collections, nor do I think they should be. The globalization and digitization of our world has made it increasingly impossible for these institutions to hoard history for themselves, as has been customary. The evolution of information technology has empowered origin countries to take back what was stolen from them, and museums are slow-moving in realizing that the game has changed. I think that because of these surges in the evolution of information technology, my generation has a very different understanding of “ownership”, particularly as it applies to cultural property. I think that more than any other era, our various technologies have taught us how to share information. I really hope this inherent belief in the fair and equal sharing of information for education will greatly affect how we retool museums when we ourselves are museum professionals and scholars.

Yale creates Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage

Really really rich people + education = the founding of the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, which was funded by a gift of #25 million dollars from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78. The Institute will be focused on the conservation and digitization of art and artifacts; the conservation core will work on providing specialized tools and new technologies and methods to reduce the threats to cultural objects, while the the digitization side will apply new technological tools to capture, store, curate, and share findings and materials digitally. Over time, the Institute would like to build its faculty and staff resources to become more involved in addressing preservation issues in the field. It was also noted in the article that a program of online courses will be developed based on the University’s cultural heritage collections.

This makes me a happy camper. However, as psyched as I am to see all these new opportunities for some quality hardcore academia in cultural heritage studies, I hope Yale will remember its undergraduate students as the Institute develops. We like fancy research opportunities, state-of-the-art-equipment, and internship opportunities too. Yalies past and future, you better demand it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grad Program Guide: Newcastle University

I’ve been googling “cultural heritage studies grad program” every now and then, mostly to see if I missed any programs the first bajillion times I searched it. The Newcastle University International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies’ many programs didn’t pop up until the second or third afternoon of avid Googling, but the persistence was worth it. Newcastle University doesn’t just have a Cultural Heritage Studies MA or a Museum Studies MA, or even an MA that combines the two. No. Why have one or two programs when you could have six programs in this field, each with multiple degree types: Art Museum and Gallery Education, Art Museum and Gallery Studies, Art as Enterprise, Heritage Education & Interpretation, Heritage Management, and Museum Studies.

I want to be in all these programs, but I’m particularly taken by the Heritage Education and Interpretation program. The Master of Arts is a 12 month course full time, and 24 months part time; a Postgraduate diploma is 9 months full-time and 18 months part time; and a Masters of Heritage Practice (what!) is 24 months full time and 48 part time. This program is intended to prepare students to work in the heritage sector and to equip students what the skills and knowledge they might need for research degrees. Modules familiarize students with the workings of the museum, gallery, and heritage sectors and allow opportunities for students to “rub shoulders” with students from other programs, as well as engage in program-specific seminars. Like most programs, there is a compulsory 8-week work placement at a heritage sit or organization, followed by the dissertation. The Centre as a whole has close ties with international bodies like UNESCO, national organizations and museums, and heritage organizations like English Heritage and the National Trust.

Newcastle’s website has been wooing me hard, and I can’t put my finger on why, exactly. The Centre’s main page lists 10 reasons to study at ICCHS; the first reason is expert and friendly staff. After seeing a lot of programs emphasize how competitive they are, it’s really nice to just see a program that says, “Hi. We’re friendly, we know our stuff, you should study with us.” Other reasons include the employability of students (boo ya), the vast range of guest lecturers, the intensity of the course, the hands-on approach to teaching and learning by doing, and the dynamism and closeness of the community’s work, trips, seminars, society, and parties. This school actually reminds me a lot of the school I already go to with its emphasis on hard work, joyous parties, and its unique ability to bring the world to its doorstep though it may not be in a major city like London. Is this the British Bennington? Do the kids at Newcastle University also wear too much plaid, talk about how art itself pisses them off, and eat vegan for health purposes while smoking multiple packs a day? Oh man. I want to go to there.

Pompeii theme park: it's a good idea, and I won't even be condescending when I tell you why

Via Twitter, I heard this bit on BBC radio earlier about having a historical theme park outside of Pompeii. I want you to take four and a half minutes to listen to it, and just marvel at how ridiculous this clip is. They had Caroline Lawrence, an archaeologist turned children's writer, come onto the show to talk about this amazing idea only to have it be massively, condescendingly, buffoonishly (I don't care if that's not a real word) shot down by Prof. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the Herculaneum Conservation project and master of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge.

Lawrence (who I think has the most calming voice I've ever heard) believes that having a historical Pompeii theme park near the ruins could alleviate the stress that tourism places on the ruins; provide an environment that would give people, especially children, a much better idea of what we have learned about Pompeii through archaeology by bringing it to life; and create a source of funds for maintaining and excavating the ruins. I agree with her. She's written this list of top ten ideas for why this could work, every one of them a gem. I think this is a rock star of a concept, and I'd like to see it happen.

However, Wallace-Hadrill's contribution to this discussion, though it takes up the majority of the four minutes, is the verbal equivalent of an incredulous laugh. I really hate it when people get nervous about disagreeing with someone, so they put on that "I'm-chuckling-because-I-think-your-idea-is-stupid-and-you-don't-know-anything-about-it-but-let-me-simply-explain-it-for-you-like-you're-a-dumb-child" tone. It's like, either respect me as a person and tell me straight up as an adult why you disagree, or just hush your mouth. Instead of responding with a suggestion for how this idea could be better, how it could be funded, or suggesting his own ideas for how Pompeii should be promoted and preserved, Wallace-Hadrill only states that it should be preserved but that no one has any money to do it properly. And then he accidentally ends up saying something that supports Lawrence's idea, and tries to save himself by sounding even more didactic. So...what's your big idea then, dude? Obviously, Prof. Wallace-Hadrill is hiding his big idea from us all if he's so dead set against other people's fresh takes on a frustrating situation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Please bear with me

Because Google Adsense decided one day that it had had enough of me and wouldn't let me repeal their termination of my account, I'm trying out a new ad program. Even though I have it set up to approve ads myself, I'm still seeing Sexy Russians on the side of my page. I hope you don't, but if you do, please know I am not personally endorsing mail order brides and that this is just a super funny and hopefully temporary glitch. Ha ha.

Virtual renderings prove looting in Buddhist caves

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

SAFE's blog Cultural Heritage in Danger just posted about this PBS report by Jeffrey Brown on an exhibition, "Echoes of the Past", that focuses on looted Buddhist icons from a group of sixth-century caves called Xiangtangshan in China. This exhibition features virtual renderings of the caves that put back the sculptures back where they originally belonged and can physically prove that pieces have been removed from the site. The exhibition originated at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, is currently at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. until July 31, and then will be heading to Dallas and San Diego.

This kind of research would be another huge benefit of art museums teaming up with institutions for degree programs.

Oldest art in Western Hemisphere found by fossil hunter. Ack.

A few years ago, James Kennedy, an amateur fossil hunter, found a piece of fossilized bone at Vero Beach in Florida. For two years, the bone sat in a box under his kitchen sink (!!!) until he discovered that on the bone was an engraving of a mammoth. After three years of research, scientists have determined that the engraving on the fossilized bone (which belonged to a mammoth, a mastadon, or a giant sloth) is the oldest known prehistoric art ever found in the Western Hemisphere, clocking in at 13,000 years old.

This excites me. I am legitimately excited about this find. HOWEVER, I’m really not so keen on its finder, James Kennedy, or on the NPR article about this event. NPR has featured some unfortunately misleading word use before, but I’m having a hard time finding anything redeeming about Kennedy’s first quote: “I mean I’m not a scientist. I just go out and dig up bones good. I’m good at finding them. That’s one thing I do do, buddy.” Yeah, buddy. I’m sure you do do.

I’m frustrated for three big reasons right now: first, this guy may have found an incredibly important artifact (ecofact? which word would be best here?), the importance of which has brought Vero Beach to the attention of archaeologists and researchers again, but who knows what kind of context he may have destroyed in order to get this bone. Second, he’s going to sell the bone. Not donate it to a major institution that could keep it safe and make it available to the public and to scholars for research, but sell it to someone rich enough who may or may not make it available for research and education. He automatically looses about a thousand points with me for this. Third, this NPR article is the only one I can find that has recently covered this story, and they seem to be playing up the “treasure hunter makes it big” angle and encouraging looting.

Yikes, NPR. This is not what loving history responsibly looks like, and you should know that. This is not what we’re encouraging here. We are encouraging people having an interest in these things, but being wise enough to know that if they want to interact with them on regular basis, they should get a degree first or volunteer for a legitimate institution/organization. Not go and dig stuff up and keep it under their kitchen sinks. We are encouraging the preservation of history, no matter how old, and the sharing of this history with the world, not just one person for lots of money. We are also encouraging better journalism; you made Charles Lacer sound like a looter, and you’re sort of making James Kennedy sound like one too. If there is something I am missing from this story that may be redeeming, then I am sorry, Mr. Kennedy, for disliking you. However, from what I understand, James Kennedy is not interested in loving history or finding ways to enjoy prehistoric artifacts in a responsible way. This is 2011, not 1911. Most of us are aware that there are many legal and mutually beneficial ways to enjoy and preserve very very old things. Those people who are aware of this and choose to dig anyway should be financially bitch slapped by the government for consciously threatening the preservation of our common history.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

National Heritage Board and Smithsonian Institution build workshops to train Singapore's museum and heritage sector

The National Heritage Board (NHB) in Singapore is teaming up with the Smithsonian Institution and the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore to raise the standards of Singapore's museum and heritage industry. The Smithsonian and the NHB will co-develop a training curriculum and organize workshops for museum professionals over two years. The goal is to update Singapore's museum practices to international standards, strengthen their heritage programs, and create jobs in tourism.

Someone tell me if I'm wrong, but I haven't heard of this kind of thing happening very often, and I think it's an amazing idea. This kind of collaboration would be particularly useful in countries like Turkey, which does have a lot of regional museums that suffer from being under-staffed, poorly funded, and consequently are much more vulnerable to thefts. Programs like this could really help local economies thrive by promoting and sustaining tourism outside bigger cities, and might provide more incentive for educated citizens to remain in their countries instead of finding better employment opportunities in wealthier countries with well-established museum and heritage sectors.

Virginia MFA re-checks Lewis collection, sticks foot in mouth

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has reviewed its process in accepting eight artifacts loaned by Joseph Lewis, who was indicted last week in a massive antiquities bust, to determine that their process was thorough and that they accepted the artifacts “in good faith.” In the Richmond Times-Dispatch interview, Alex Nyerges, the museum director and CEO, called Lewis, “a charming fellow, a passionate collector and somebody that I would say from a personal standpoint is a reliable and I think conscientious collector.” Yeah, well, they said that about Marion True, too. Nyerges said the museum re-examined their process in accepting Lewis’s donation to determine whether they had been thorough enough in making their decision, coming to the conclusion that “the answer is yes.” The article doesn’t mention exactly what this process entailed, and the museum has not released a statement explaining their process. To their credit, the museum has been quite transparent in providing information on the artifacts from the Lewis collection. They even notified the U.S. Attorney’s Office in new York through the Virginia attorney general’s office to state their willingness to cooperate in the investigation.

However, the quote that really gets me going is when Nyerges says that the eight artifacts loaned “are not particularly rare or valuable objects.” He is quoted, “They actually speak much more to the cultural history of the ancient Egyptian civilization. They are not what I would consider to be priceless or extremely valuable. And this is not meant to be a pejorative statement, but they are more common and ordinary than not.”

I don’t even know where to begin with this statement. So, ancient cultural objects are only worth the money they could fetch at auction? The information they contain about the people and cultures who made them is really just a bonus, and definitely not necessary at an art museum, where it’s all about how pretty the stuff is anyway, right? Is this a “once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” kind of deal? Oh, and the prettiest things don’t communicate information about their culture? It’s only the less pretty, more boring things that have anything to say? How is he defining “common and ordinary”? Is he suggesting that we’ve all got some of this stuff in our grandmothers’ attics? That if I brought an Egyptian canopic jar to The Antiques Roadshow, I’d only get enough money to buy a used car?

This is a truly unacceptable show of disrespect to the objects, the people who made them, and the people whose organs they contained (and thought would accompany them for forever in the afterlife) by a man who is supposed to be their guardian and ambassador. I love museums, and I do not think vilifying museums does anyone any good in dealing with the illicit antiquities trade, but I believe these kinds of statements from museum officials are indicative of how little has changed despite years of scandal and embarrassment over antiquities. From what I am seeing as a student, the mindset toward cultural property in art museums is still highly influenced by a collector’s point of view. That is, they emphasize the monetary value and aesthetic appeal of cultural objects over the objects’ original cultural meaning and function. I personally think this view is too narrow and corrupt to do museum-goers much good. I am so unimpressed by Alex Nyerges right now, despite his efforts to take responsibility for the artifacts in his temporary care.

Books that won't waste your time

Earlier this week, I attempted to read Matthew Bogdanos’s Thieves of Baghdad. I admire Bogdanos. I really do. I find his tireless efforts to recover Iraq’s stolen artifacts and to bring attention to the illicit antiquities trade incredibly noble. I am so grateful that we have him and others like him serving in our Armed Forces to keep the cultural heritage of occupied countries safe. I wish there were more people like him in every military force. But, unfortunately, I think his book is unreadable.

The first two chapters were interesting, but crudely written. I kept chugging, thinking maybe the quotes from Classical authors interjected every five lines might subside after the introductory chapters. I snorted at his comparison of analyzing crimes scenes to losing your virginity (you can only do it once? It’s not that funny, Bogdanos), and I was moved by his interactions with Dr. Nawala al-Mutwali, the then-director of the Iraq National Museum. But then he felt the need to cover his entire life’s story, including blow-by-blow details of his experience in New York City during September 11, 2001, which were often graphic and disturbing. After I had a good cry about 9/11 (I lived outside D.C. at the time; that stuff stays fresh, man) I was like, “I didn’t read this book to cry about 9/11 again. What is his freaking point?”

Well, my freaking point is that there seem to be a lot of really badly written books out there about the illicit antiquities trade, but you don’t have to waste hours of your life figuring out which ones are useless. I’ve already done that for you. I’ve included a new page (next to the Resources page) with a list of books I have found most helpful and most intelligently written on cultural heritage, the illicit antiquities trade, archaeology, museums, etc. Because I am always reading, the list is always being updated.

If you have any suggestions, let me know! I'm currently working on The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson, Master Pieces, by Thomas Hoving, and Whose Muse?, edited by James Cuno.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Every Day at the Museum

The NYT recently featured this video on two PhD students participating in the American Natural History Museum's comparative biology program. It is the only PhD program offered at the museum and it only accepts four students every year. The lucky few who are accepted have access to the entire collection and to crazy sophisticated technologies for their research. AND the museum pays for their field work to collect other specimens to study and add to the museum collection.

Not only is this video incredibly cool, but this could be a brilliant idea for other institutions to latch onto. Jennie Carvill at MuseumsandStuff points out that this kind of arrangement could overcome the problems some researchers have in gaining access to collections. I personally think that running a degree program could be a fantastic way for art museums to put their enormous collections of artifacts to good use. If art museums, at the least, teamed up with certain institutions to create very specialized research opportunities for archaeology, anthropology, art history, and museum studies students, everyone could kill a few different and pesky birds with some very smart and discerning stones:
  • encouraging the study of unprovenanced artifacts against professionally excavated artifacts may yield a lot of insight into what we didn't know about the orphan objects, and may help discover their origin countries;
  • after years of dishonest collecting and dishonorable attitudes toward origin countries, art museums may be able to redeem themselves by supporting the education of a younger generation that will not make the same mistakes as older generations;
  • collaborating on a degree program may be a good opportunity for the museum world and archaeologists to find a way to work together to preserve our cultural heritage, instead of just arguing about who does it better and who's making it worse.
I definitely think that, with the right institutions and people involved, this kind of collaboration could be incredibly beneficial.

Big Thank You!

I have been working extra hard lately to really make something of myself and this blog, and I would like to thank all of you who have been so supportive and have shared it with others! It has been a really exciting week and I am so grateful for all the warm welcomes I've received. I particularly want to thank all my new Twitter followers, especially Dr. Steven Lubar, Dr. David Gill, the Peabody Museum, and Cultural Heritage Parners, LLC. I am also truly grateful to Prof. Archer St. Clair Harvey and Prof. Tod Marder at Rutgers' CHAPS, and Sasha Renninger at Penn CHC for all of their support in sharing the blog with their students and faculty, as well as their very nice invitations to drop by their offices if I'm ever in the area.

When I began this blog in January, I had no concrete ideas about what purpose I wanted it to serve or how I wanted it to grow. Trial and error over the last seven months has pushed me towards filling a gap and entertaining a market that is both wide and critical in solving these cultural heritage issues: college students. To my knowledge, no other blog or website seeks to directly address college students in order to inform them on cultural heritage issues (particularly the illicit antiquities trade) and give them the tools they need to do something about it themselves. Even if that tool is simply having the right book for their research. I find this perplexing, considering how, you know, students are the future. College students have been my primary target audience since the beginning, but over the next few months, I will be focusing on them and this gap in the market more earnestly. My goal is to make this blog not just a commentary, but a resource for all the young angry people who love all the world's old things and past peoples, who value what we learn about our selves and humankind through artifacts and bones, and who are dedicated to saving the culture and bodies of the past from the selfish, destructive hands of a market that values only the aesthetic worth of artifacts. I am hoping to make Things You Can't Take Back a much more dynamic and informative space, so over the next few weeks, I'll be adding a few new features that I hope everyone will find entertaining and educational. In the meantime, I hope you'll keep reading and sharing!

Update on our old boy Zahi Hawass and the situation in Egypt

Found via Egyptology News, Zahi Hawass's position is definitely temporary (we'll see) as the search continues for his replacement. However, in the recent cabinet shuffling, the ministry of antiquities has been downgraded to a cabinet-affiliated office, the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the same situation it was in before Hosni Mubarak upgraded it in the final days of his office. The secretary general of the SCA was quoted by Al Masry Al Youm as saying that the antiquities sector funds itself independently, and does not need government funds that it would receive as a ministry. I would argue that there really isn't such a thing as too much money when it comes to preserving and protecting millennia of culture and artifacts, especially in Egypt's case. Click the links for more information.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Take a break with these fresh blogs

So, I decided to watch Pocahontas last night. It may have been because it was late (it was like 10:30 pm when I started), or because my best friend had already suggested that she might cry at the end (she really loves Pocahontas), or because I've been working so hard, but I totally cried during and after because a) stop it, Disney, and b) roughly 90% of the native population of this continent wiped out from disease after the colonists arrived. This is not normal. Normal would be me getting kind of pissed because this movie is so aggressively historically inaccurate, but still really enjoying all the musical numbers. (You haven't really heard Savages until you've heard it in Polish: "They're devil's hideous lice"?! Wow. Harsh.) But it just got super emotional for me as I thought about that number, 90%, and had these big moments of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible loss of lives, history, and culture. Like, as an animated hummingbird is trying to express emotion, I'm on the brink of tears thinking about peoples' unnamed remains in museum storage and alive people defiling the graves of these dead people to sell their most intimate history on the antiquities market. I'm not saying this reaction is a bad one. I'm all for people, including myself, embracing their humanity and grieving over all the lives and tradition that have been lost unnecessarily throughout history. I just think maybe I could have saved it for a time that wasn't during a Disney movie.

I took this as a sign that I should treat myself to some more light-hearted reading material. Twitter and Tumblr have introduced me to some pretty amazing people and websites, so here are my favorite finds from the past week:

This isn't super light hearted like the other blogs mentioned here are, but it's one of my new favorites so it gets a pass. Terry Brock is an archaeology grad student at Michigan State University with this super sweet blog on "archaeology, cultural heritage, higher education, social media, and Getting Things Done." His writing is very warm and amiable, which makes it easy to enjoy his personal recollections, information about his research, and his advice for other graduate students. In addition to his blog, you can find him on Twitter.

At ArchaeoPop, Daniel Shoup blogs intelligently and irreverently about archaeology and music. He's a great source for big topics like Egypt's current antiquities dilemma, but he supplements his information with a fun, cheeky vibe that never mixes serious with boring.

This is really the best of your typical Tumblr (links, photos, GIFs) combined with lots of cool and useful information. Jennie Carvill is a PhD student in Vienna who blogs about museums and museum studies. The page is updated less frequently lately, but you can also follow her on Twitter.

Not only is it super entertaining to admit to yourself and hundreds of other people that, yeah, Frederick Douglass, Irish political prisoners, and Lewis Thornton Powell (one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators), are all total babes, but this is the kind of thing you could easily share with your moody 14 year old cousin/niece/sister/whatever and be like, "Look, history is fun! Real fun."

This is in a similar vein as the previous blog, but with a much wider historical spectrum, more biographical information, and a tad more raunch.

This is just a series of memes that readers submit, but it's a great laugh. My favorite is, "You know you're a history fan when... You cringe at the Elder Wand being destroyed. That's an artifact, it should be preserved!"

Cultural Heritage for the Undergrad Continued

In my internet ramblings over the last few days, I’ve discovered that I left out a few crucial programs from my first post on cultural heritage studies for undergraduates. How utterly negligent of me. Here are some more opportunities for you to get your heritage on while getting a BA, not after:

UMass Amherst Center for Heritage and Society

Big fat duh. I totally forgot to include this amazing program the first time I covered this topic. The Center for Heritage and Society caters to both undergraduate and graduate programs at the school, as well as providing research opportunities for scholars in heritage related fields. This past May, they hosted the conference, “Why Does The Past Matter?”, which honored scholars Henry Cleere (former Director of the Council for British Archaeology and currently Senior Advisor to the US-based Global Heritage Fund), Barbara Little (an author who takes an activist approach to historical archaeology), and David Lowenthal (emeritus professor of geography and honorary research fellow at University College London, and Fulbright, Guggenheim, Leverhulme, and Landes Fellow. Whew.) Most excitingly, they offer courses for both undergraduates and graduates. This upcoming fall, the only course listed is a graduate level seminar called Heritage as Politics. But hey. It only says “graduate LEVEL”, which means if you’re an undergrad at UMass Amherst and you’re pushy, passionate, and accomplished enough, you might be able to get in. I say “might” because I don’t go to UMass Amherst so I don’t know if that kind of thing is allowed like it is at Bennington. We’re pretty incorrigible at Bennington.

The Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania

I just discovered this center today and man oh man am I excited about it. Penn CHC is a research, outreach, and educational center that studies the threats to cultural heritage from looting, the illicit antiquities trade, and commercial development, and promotes heritage policies, and, my favorite, connects cultural heritage and human rights by asking, “Is there a basic human right to have your Cultural Heritage protected?” Their events page have an impressive number of past lectures, and projects are ongoing in eight countries. The best part: the center offers courses for both undergraduate and graduate students, AND they have trained law enforcement agents in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and in Customs and Border Patrol. (They got swagger, man.) Two undergraduate courses are listed: “Public Policy, Museums, and Cultural Heritage” and “Ethic, Archaeology, and Cultural”. Both are listed for fall semester and are taught by Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, the founder of the center. There’s even a fancy little section where two undergraduate students working in close collaboration with Penn CHC are profiled. I could spend a really long time talking about all the opportunities I keep finding on this site, but I won’t. Just please. Check it OUT.

Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative (CHI) at Michigan State University

This is one of the strangest and coolest programs I’ve found so far. The Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative isn’t just into cultural heritage; it’s into the creative application of informing, communicating, and computing cultural heritage. They define “informatics” as a term used to “describe the creative application of information, communication, and computing technologies (broadly defined) to address the needs, challenges, and content of a specific domain.” CHI believes collaboration is necessary for cultural heritage informatics, and stress the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. To accomplish this, CHI has a fieldschool that takes place from late May to early July on the Michigan Statue University campus. The CHI Fieldschool employs the model of an archaeological fieldschool but instead of working on a dig, students work collaboratively on several cultural heritage informatics projects. The site says, “The CHI Fieldschool is built firmly on the principle that students develop a far better understanding of cultural heritage informatics by actually building tools, applications, and digital user experiences than they do with passive analysis and commentary. The added benefit is that by building tools, applications, and digital user experiences, students also have the opportunity to make a tangible and potentially significant contribution to the cultural heritage community.” They go on to note the importance of learning digital media, information technology, and computing technology, which is vital to cultural heritage fields, yet many professionals only acquire these skills after their graduate degree. So they’re helping both graduate and undergraduate students to make digital know-how a major part of their education now rather than later.

I am now seriously considering applying to the fieldschool for next summer.

THIS STUFF IS SO COOL, EVERYBODY. Sometimes I just can’t keep my excitement at an inside-voice level.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hawass sort of kind of a little bit back

Zahi Hawass is still kind of sort of in his post as minister of antiquities, at least until a replacement can be found.

For crying out loud.

More on Joseph Lewis, collector indicted in major antiquities bust

Lee Rosenbaum at CultureGrrl has obtained a list from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of works that were loaned by Joseph Lewis II, who was indicted last week with three dealers. There are 8 artifacts, all of which appear to be Egyptian. Many have ambiguous and suspect provenances in Swiss collections conveniently dated before 1970; Dr. David Gill questions exactly which Swiss collections these are, and whether they belonged to Swiss dealers'. The museum stated that they were all accepted in "good faith". Please. Anyone even slightly involved in this business knows that Switzerland has no policy on importing and exporting antiquities, making it the perfect destination for dealers who need to fake provenances. These pieces may or may not have been looted, but the museum should have been much more thorough in researching the origins of their pieces, regardless of the owner, as opposed to blindly accepting objects "in good faith". Have we learned nothing from all the major museum scandals over the past decade?

Monday, July 18, 2011

More information on Moussa "Morris" Khouli

Rick St. Hilaire, a cultural heritage lawyer, has an incredibly useful post on Moussa "Morris" Khouli, one of the men indicted in the antiquities ring bust. He gives a wonderful summation of the indictment papers and elaborates on the details of Mr. Khouli's dealing business, which he accomplished through two companies, Windsor Antiques and Palmyra Heritage. Paul Barford points out that Palmyra Heritage is still active on Ebay.

Read up, younguns.

MOU with Greece and Zahi Hawass kicked like a bad habit

This week is mad money for events concerning the illicit antiquities trade. First, there was that major bust in the U.S. (go team). Now, Hillary Clinton has signed an MOU with Greece (yay!) and everyone is in a tizzy after Zahi Hawass was fired as Egyptian antiquities minister (ack).

First, the good news: this week, Hillary Clinton signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Greece to reduce incentive for pillaging Greece's archaeological heritage and the sale of its artifacts in the U.S. Essentially, this means that the Department of Homeland Security will publish a list in the Federal Register of the types of archaeological materials that require documentation to be brought into the country. Every country has the option to request import restrictions in the U.S.; their requests are reviewed by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, who generally accept requests from countries who promote the development and sustainment of safeguarding cultural heritage. Once the bi-lateral agreement has been set up, it lasts only five or so years, after which the request must be renewed. Which is, frankly, really dumb, because five years is an incredibly short amount of time. Regardless, this MOU with Greece is fantastic news!

Second, Zahi Hawass was fired by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in a massive cabinet shuffle that flushed the Egyptian ministry of its last ties to Mubarak. As of this writing, there has been no statement on Hawass's firing on his personal website. For those of you baby scholars who are just getting into this stuff, Zahi Hawass has garnered a lot of mixed reactions in his time as minister of antiquities. He is best known for his brash nitpicking over Egyptian antiquities in other countries and his repeated calls for the return of Egypt's best known artifacts from European countries, particularly the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin. His media blitzing and brashness has both raised awareness of the illicit antiquities trade and hugely annoyed the academic community. Most articles you'll see on him this week will begrudgingly admit that he has done wonders for the tourist trade in Egypt, but go on to point out that many see him as a media-driven character that has less interest in preserving and maintaining Egypt's archaeological sites than in branding himself. After the riots during the revolution that led to the break-in to the Egyptian museum and the severe increase in looting at many of Egypt's major historical sites, Hawass received a lot of criticism for his poor handling of the disaster. His firing has been a long time coming.

Personally, just talking about Hawass makes me tired because the dude is so obnoxious and so hard to suss out. In my undergraduate opinion, the success of this decision could swing either way. Ultimately, I think what Egypt needs right now is an antiquities minister who is unarguably focused on Egypt, who will be a strong, economically aware leader, and who will not embarrass the country by throwing little media fits to get attention and attract tourists. Hawass's bold, nontraditional ways may have been effective in peacetime, but it is obvious that the man cannot operate in a war zone. Egypt needs a leader that is very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of its archaeological sites and institutions, and who will make their care in an unstable political environment a priority over his or her own international reputation. Whether or not this kind of person will be able to step up to the job is the big question right now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Candid Review of Chasing Aphrodite

I’ve been reading a lot of wonderful reviews over the summer for Chasing Aphrodite, by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. (I particularly recommend Derek Fincham’s review, which I think best sums up the superiority of this text as a highly efficient and effective journalistic take on the Getty’s scandals.) Now that I have finally read it for myself, Chasing Aphrodite didn’t let me down. Everything everyone has been saying in various reviews applies to my view as well: it is a beautifully written tome that seamlessly organizes decades of complicated transgressions and scandals into one fluid linear narrative. Magically, this is done without any dryness or sensationalism whatsoever. All the complicated U.S. and international laws on antiquities and trafficking are described briefly and effectively; the personal in-fighting and politics at the Getty are mentioned when necessary but not hyped up for a glorified gossip fest; and though the personal views of the authors are somewhat transparent in their treatment of figures like Philippe de Montebello and James Cuno (I’m not disagreeing or anything though), they have still set themselves far enough back to give a fair and thorough account.

The perks that no one with a Master’s degree likes to talk about are the truly endearing and irrelevant bits of information that infuse the book with a beautiful sense of humanity. I found myself “awwing” out loud when Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini fall in love while matching photos of antiquities from Giacomo Medici’s raided warehouse to photos of works at the Getty over pizza during all-nighters. That’s my ultimate idea of romance. I’m not kidding. At the end of the book, I was particularly tickled by the mention of Tom Cruise and Katie Holme’s wedding, which took place during the final stages of the legal battle over the Getty’s looted Italian artifacts. I was even more tickled when the authors referred to them as “TomKat” and described the totally surreal scene of two beaten down lawyers trying to figure out their case in a hotel lobby, surrounded by celebrities in town for the nuptials.

Quirks aside, I firmly believe that every student interested in the illicit antiquities trade should read this book. It is non-negotiable in fostering your understanding of the issues. Not only is it well-written and entertaining, but it describes the trade from the top down better than any other book I’ve read so far. Without sparing any detail of how complicated, intricate, and straight up confusing the trade can be, the authors have clearly and eloquently laid out all the types of major contenders, the roles they play, how they play them, and the consequences. They do a particularly good job of demonstrating how badly equipped police forces are in dealing with these issues and how ineffective the law has been in staunching the flow of artifacts from ground to collector. In this book, you will learn what took me years and multiple books and articles to understand: how the trade is configured, how it operates, the names and roles of the most important people who were operating and benefitting from the trade, and how it came to be this way.

Most importantly, though the Getty scandal is unique, the points of view expressed by many of the people in the book are not. This all happened just a few years ago, and I get the feeling that many museums and institutions are already acting like it’s as historical as Napoleon dragging whole temples back with him from Egypt. There’s this sense of “people just don’t do that anymore”, which is totally false and incredibly dangerous. College students, I’m talking to you. Study the people in this book. Take your time to note the best and worst parts of this world we’ll soon be stepping into, because even though it has changed, in many ways it is still the same. (Especially because James Cuno is now at the Getty.) We need to prepare ourselves for the kind of politics, hypocrisy, and temptations that we’ll find there, and begin building and solidifying our own ethical codes while we’re still dirt poor and not in a position to accept great sums of money for doing questionable things at major institutions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I finally caved and now the blog has a Twitter. If you're on Twitter, follow me! If not, join Twitter for the sole purpose of following me!

International Antiquities Trafficking Ring Busted in U.S.

Two days ago, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced (found via Derek Fincham) that they have made arrests in the first major bust of an antiquities trafficking ring in the U.S. Four men were indicted and three arrested: Salem Alshdaifat, an antiquities dealer who operated Holyhead Numismatics in Michigan; Joseph Lewis, a collector and benefactor of Egyptian antiquities; Mousa Kouli, an antiquities dealer who operated Windsor Antiquities in new York; and Ayman Ramadan, a Jordanian antiquities dealer who operated Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading in Dubai. Ramadan is a fugitive. All four face multiple counts of smuggling and money laundering and face up to 20 years in prison. ICE and Homeland Security agents seized Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and Asian artifacts along with more than a thousand ancient coins in the bust.

Those of you who are already involved in combatting these issues know just how mega exciting this kind of news is. For those of you in the nascent stages of discovering these issues, I can tell you right now that underneath every somber word of every blogger reporting on this bust is the barely suppressed, hardly verbal exclamation of "AHSDFGSFG YEAH THAT'S RIGHT YOU GUYS! WE'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER. YOU ALL BEST WATCH YOUR ASS NOW BECAUSE ETHICS AND LEARNING AND PRESERVATION OF OUR HISTORY WILL PREVAIL. BOO YA!"

But really, this is serious business.

Why is this bust so important? Because instead of just being able to charge, say, the dealer/middleman, authorities were able to lock down on the biggest players in the scenario. The illicit antiquities trade looks (very) roughly like this:

The U.S. authorities, with help from Egypt, were able to take out the broker, the conduit, the dealer, AND a collector, effectively shutting down a major arm of the illicit antiquities trade.

Larry Rothfield has pointed out some of the most exciting and truly enlightening aspects of this bust, particularly how it definitively demonstrates the international scale of the trade on all levels, from the individuals involved to the artifacts being sold. Check out his blog, as well as this CNN article.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Book List For Historically-Inclined

I spent basically the entire month of June recovering from spring term by vegging out in front of Netflix, eating kale chips, and reading Maeve Binchy novels. The entire month of June. I'm not even kidding. Thankfully for my brain cells, I'm fully recovered now, so it's time to start reading something mildly serious again to get my mind back in shape by September. Unfortunately, the things I really want to read (Two Essay: Chief and Greed, by Edmund Carpenter, who recently passed away; Who Owns Objects?: The Ethics and Politics of Collecting Cultural Artefacts, by Eleanor Robinson; and many books by Colin Renfrew) aren't carried by Central Massachusetts public libraries, but I have managed to find some things that have been on my book list for forever. (Forever being a year or two ago.)

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum, by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

Felch and Frammolino were the two reporters who led a Los Angeles Times investigation that revealed the Getty Museum's illicit purchases of looted
Greek and Roman antiquities. This book chronicles the indictment of Marion True and the controversy surrounding the return of various pieces to Italy, including a statue of Aphrodite bought by True in order to put the Getty on the map. I have read about this controversy and Marion True in many articles, but am really looking forward to just getting it all straight in one sitting with one source.

Thieves of Baghdad, by Matthew Bogdanos with William Patrick

Matthew Bogdanos is a lawyer, student of ancient civilizations, and Marine Corps Reserve colonel who gave himself the mission of finding antiquities that had been stolen from the Iraq National Museum after the American invasion. Aka my hero. This book covers his mission and investigation into the illicit antiquities trade in Iraq.

Whose Muse? Art Museums and the Public Trust, edited by James Cuno

Earlier this spring, I read Whose Culture?: The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities, also edited by Cuno, and was about halfway through his introduction when I realized that this was the first book I'd ever read about the illicit antiquities trade that I really didn't agree with most of the time. Realizing this rendered me ecstatic. I will be using Whose Culture? quite heavily in researching my senior work, and so decided Whose Muse? looked like a great summer read to supplement my understanding of contrary opinions.

Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell (I already read it, but I think you should too.)

Vowell's latest book chronicles the colonization of Hawaii by American missionaries in the 19th century, ending with the year of Hawaii's annexation in 1898.

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this book by my friend Eric while we were still at school (thank you, Eric!), but only got through the first forty pages at the time because a) finals, man, and b) my first opinion of the book was heavily impacted by the review in the New York Times, which wasn't glowing. The reviewer, a Hawaiian, painted the book as slightly obnoxious, if entertaining, and lacking in scholarly merit. It may have been that finals had me feeling overly sensitive about everything, but the first time I tried to read it, I was a little uncomfortable about the way Vowell treats Hawaiian culture the same way she treats American culture in her earlier books; slightly mocking, full of that social criticism flavor, rife with comparisons to the cheaper aspects of pop culture, sometimes admiring. My gut reaction was that you're only supposed to do that to your own culture. Kind of like how you're the only one who's allowed to beat up your little brother. But yesterday I read a review of Unfamiliar Fishes by Alex Golub on Savage Minds; Golub, a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, compared two books on haoles, or white people in Hawaii, and declared Vowell's the winner. Unlike the NYT reviewer, he attests to the validity of her research, the depth of information, and the breadth of voices she brings in to flesh out her story.

So I decided to give it another go, and finished it today. I have to preface anything I say by telling you that I am one of Vowell's biggest fans. Her book Assassination Vacation changed my life by finally getting me interested in American history and giving me the validation I had craved as an adolescent for often liking really old things a little too much. Like, so much so that I was always singled out for it, just like Vowell. Unfamiliar Fishes didn't disappoint me, and I hope it won't disappoint you either. Though it lacks the utterly perfect combination of wit and fact contained in Assassination, it is not as dry and pedantic as The Wordy Shipmates. It strikes me as the most mature and even-tempered piece by Vowell as she continues her particularly unique brand of social criticism, history, and cool kid word smithing. Though it is incredibly entertaining, it does not treat the fall of Hawaii lightly. There is genuine admiration in Vowell's voice for the Hawaiian nation, and genuine sympathy as she discusses the factors that led to its annexation. Additionally, though there is quite a lot of information, it's a relatively quick and easy read. Perfect for a beach. I highly recommend it for your summer reading.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival!

If any of you are in the Washington, D.C. metro area this week, you should totes go check out the Folklife Festival on the Mall, which is resuming tomorrow the 7th through the 11th. This year's festival is focusing on Colombia, The Peace Corps, and Rhythm and Blues! I was an intern for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage a few years ago (under the wonderful Betty Belanus and Dorey Butter - hi!), and I can't begin to tell you how hard these people work to create such an amazing event. The first year I went, I saw the prince of Bhutan give the most beautiful welcome speech. So go check it out and tell everybody and everything that I say hi and I miss it!

PRO TIP: If getting there by Metro, don't get off at the Smithsonian station unless you want to do battle with other tourists getting out. Have some patience and wait one more ride for L'Enfant Plaza, then find the exit for Maryland Ave/7th and walk a couple blocks to arrive slightly sweaty but largely unbothered by clamoring crowds.

Keep an eye on your youth.

I had the weirdest train of thought today that started somewhere around here in this blog, and then noodled over to Tumblr, which has made a lot more sense to me lately, and that reminded me of Xanga, which reminded me of the blog I had on Xanga during high school and is still floating somewhere around the internet. Somehow, I remembered all my old screen name/password information, and spent the morning rereading my high school life. Which was horrifying, unsurprisingly. Before there was Facebook, and even Myspace, there was Xanga for me and my group of friends. I can't believe we found so much entertainment in blogging the minutiae of our totally lame day-to-day lives.

Anyway, when I got to May 2006, I found this post where I lamented various destructions of archaeological or historical sites by suggesting really nasty ways for the perpetrators to die. I included hyperlinks to this story about American soldiers ruining Babylon, a link to the organization trying to save the Hill of Tara from having a highway run through it (now defunct), and a link that no longer exists but that I remember was about this Spanish mayor who paved over an ancient Roman town before archaeologists could come in to look at it. A lot of the punishment involved really grisly medieval-style deaths and being forced to listen to Celine Dion. I had no idea I'd begun so early in speaking out against historical injustice on the internet, but I'm really glad that account is set to private because I was surprisingly and unnecessarily graphic. Like, I'm horrified by this post now kind of graphic. Was I really that angry as an adolescent? The details I suggested in how these people should suffer strikes me now as pretty offensive. I'm surprised my mom didn't say something. The only thing that didn't totally put me off of my pubescent self was when I summed it all up with, "Archaeological injustice makes me want to cry and do something!!! Don't be a ninny! Save the Things of Historical Significance!" I think the last part suggests I'd been reading too much A.A. Milne, but overall I'm touched by the emotion and feel slightly eerie about it now that I am trying to Do Something. I'm just glad I dealt with my anger issues first? All you parents with historically/archaeologically-inclined children, make sure they aren't also using the internet to list the ways people should suffer for harming/destroying the things your children care about. Apparently, it is a real concern.

Cultural Heritage and Grad School: Guide and Gush

This next year will be my last at Bennington, which is simultaneously the happiest thing ever and the most disconcerting. I’ve basically been in college for the last six years; I started attending community college in high school, spent two years at another community college outside of Washington, D.C., and have spent three years at Bennington because not all of my credits transferred. Being so close to the end after years of feeling like it would never ever get here is dizzying. However, my complete denial that there’s a world out there where I cannot work whenever during the day I want to, wearing whatever I want to, while eating frozen burritos throughout is nicely complemented by the fact that if I want a good job in this field, I have to go back to school anyway. So even though it’s over, it’s not really over, and presently I’m grateful.

Of course, all this life thinking has been accompanied by whole days spent researching graduate programs in cultural heritage studies. For your condensed research pleasure, I’m doing two things with all this information: 1) giving you the highlights and the reviews on my fave programs in a series of blog posts, and listing all the other programs in a page, like the About section, as a resource for YOU, needy college student/educator. When I’m done, you’ll have realized you never thought you could be so excited about grad school.

University College London, MA in Cultural Heritage Studies

This is currently the program I have salivated over the most. It might be my imagination/limited experience, but it seems to be the best program for cultural heritage studies anywhere in the world. As the description says, it is built both for students who want to study cultural heritage as an academic subject and for students looking to be employed in the field. Big selling points: the program only lasts a year (part-time students complete it in two years), and is “unique as a UK academic department in having an ethics policy concerning the illicit trade in antiquities.” The extensive and incredibly detailed prospectus set the program apart for me; many other schools do not include so much information on their programs’ philosophies, structure, and methods. The prospectus is huge fun. Enjoy this delicious little excerpt:

“As such we shall critically re-­‐visit the core question – what constitutes cultural heritage? -­‐ and engage with the concerns (notably the moral-­‐ethical issues) that shape and define a contemporary ‘politics of recognition’ and the possible futures of cultural heritage studies. By seeking to identify and problematise both the intellectual and operational strategies by which cultural heritage studies can engage responsibly with these new agendas and constituencies, this degree programme will focus not only on the critical contributions of archaeology, anthropology, museology, conservation, visual and material culture studies to this new dynamic but capture links and seize upon interventions currently being made elsewhere within the academy, at policy level and ‘on the ground’ which are led by alternative sets of values, lived experiences, strategic approaches and critical theorisations."

Are you excited yet?! If not, the course options have titles like, “Antiquities and the Law” and “Managing Museums” and “Understanding Objects”, which, personally, makes my heart beat a little faster. However, the testimonials from alums are kind of lame; while Simon Allwood, MA in Managing Archaeological Sites, says of his program, “Fantastic course with unbelievable support from all the tutors.”, Elena Payami, MA Cultural Heritage, says only, “It will get you thinking, that’s for sure.”