Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bennington's Center for the Advancement of Public Action opens this weekend!

At Bennington, we have a strong focus on building our concentrations around a core of social responsibility and public action. This weekend, we are finally having the grand opening of our Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA), which is designed to give us the tools to incorporate the philosophy and technology of public action into our education and careers. How I approach my own work, particularly this blog, has a lot to do with the philosophy that CAPA endorses. The celebration for the opening, which starts today and ends on Sunday, has a really exciting schedule of people talking and workshopping. I will be covering some of the events both here, on the Bennington Tapped In blog, and on Twitter. You can find the whole schedule of events here, and I really recommend that you check it out. I am particularly excited to attend The Power of Infographics: How to Turn An Overwhelming Amount of Data into Meaningful Information, conducted by designer Gong Szeto.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Harvard Crimson Makes My Day

Today, the Harvard Crimson published this piece in their opinion section imploring Harvard and others to be more open to repatriating art objects. Harvard recently dodged a repatriation bullet after federal judge George O'Toole Jr. ruled that an Iranian group representing terrorist victims had no right to seize Persian artifacts from Harvard's Peabody Museum and the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. However, despite the Crimson's agreement with this ruling, they express concern that rulings such as this will reinforce Western institutions' belief in their right to keep the rest of the world's cultural heritage firmly in the West.
"We would not dispute that collections in the great Western museums have served as infinite sources of education, enjoyment, and awe for countless residents and tourists of these cities. There is even an argument to be made that more people across the world encounter and learn from these artifacts in a Western museum than would were they all returned to the sites of their creation. However, the purpose of a historical artifact is the rare insight it affords the world of the present into the world of the past, and the value of that insight depends upon a conversation between the object's current home and the site of its creation."
The article expresses hope that Harvard will follow the example of its peer institution, Yale, which is now moving to create a jointly operated research center with the Peruvian government after a lawsuit called for the repatriation of certain Incan artifacts. They conclude, "We can only hope that Harvard's approach in the future will be one of active engagement with the cultures from which many of the artifacts in its museum were taken and that the Rubin case doesn't set a precedent of stifling discourse between East and West."

In a word, swoon. I could not have said this better myself. This article is so dead on, and I am so excited that it's been published by such a hugely influential college newspaper. My only frustration is that the byline simply says, "The Crimson Staff". WHO IS THIS PERSON? I WANT TO TALK TO YOU. EMAIL ME.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I should probably stop referencing this movie.

You guyz, I just think you should be aware that this song tackles ethnocentrism, racism, colonialism, and environmentalism, and all really movingly. If only singing this song at dealers and collectors was as effective as it is for the freely adapted Disney version of John Smith...

The Getty returns two objects to Greece

On Tuesday, the Getty Museum agreed to return two objects in their collection to Greece and formalized a cultural agreement that will lead to loans, joint research, and other collaborations. Yay for cooperation and collaboration, right? The funny part is, Greece did not ask for these objects back and the objects do not show clear signs of being looted. I suggest you read about it in full detail from the Chasing Aphrodite blog, which is as suspicious as I am about what exactly is going on in this show of good will and international hand shaking, something Jim Cuno was really peeved by before he took his new job as Getty CEO. It's great that the Getty is being proactive about taking responsibility for questionable items in their collection, but something about it feels slightly off to me.

What's your game, Cuno?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Illicit Antiquities Trade as Conflict vs. Issue = Scary Stuff

Occasionally, I have these little bursts of insight where my mind shifts to one side and there is a pleasant clicking noise that indicates successful thought process activity. Much of the time, these are really obvious insights that I lump into the major Duh category and don’t share with anyone because it seems so embarrassingly obvious a realization. I had one of these moments a while ago in my mediation course, where my perception of the illicit antiquities trade shifted from being an issue to being a conflict. It seems like the stupidest and smallest shift in perception, because duh it’s a conflict, but increasingly I’ve felt that it is an essential distinction to make. 
Generally, I think, we all describe the trade as an issue, the same way we describe global warming or child soldiers as issues that need our time, attention, and resources to overcome. It’s a word that carries some preconceptions about how one approaches the subject in question. When someone tells me that whale hunting is an issue they care about, I assume that their primary method of addressing that issue is through activism. Very generally speaking, issue = activism in most of our minds, which is a very specific form of response to a problem. Of course, all the issues I just mentioned are also conflicts, but I feel that the distinction is particularly important to make when discussing the trade because, as we know from every Indiana Jones reference ever, it’s not taken very seriously by many to begin with. But the illicit antiquities trade is not just an issue the way global warming is an issue; it’s an intractable conflict the same way the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is an intractable conflict, which is to say it is long-standing, has eluded resolution, appears impossible to solve, and has threatened the safety of those involved.
This was a little too apparent earlier this week when Paul Barford shut down his blog temporarily  while the police investigate threats made against him and his family by a British metal detectorist. He received word that there was an attack planned against the blog, and so took it offline for a while to avoid four years of work being compromised. (It should be back in a couple weeks.) After reading so many books about the trade and the scandals that have occurred in this field, I suppose I was lulled into a false sense of security about where exactly this conflict is taking place and who is affected by it. The most obvious risks that present themselves in the literature are things like being confronted by looters with automatic weapons or getting in the way of a dealer or collector. The truth is that choosing to write publicly and unapologetically about this conflict is a risk in itself. Paul is not the only high-profile blogger in this field to receive threats. One blogger that he mentioned has even been threatened by the Italian Mafia, in addition to receiving unpleasant things from dealers and lawyers of auction houses. Suddenly, this little old blog of mine does not seem like it’s in quite the same category as joining protests in front of state capitol buildings for more environmentally friendly laws to be passed. It’s beginning to feel more like sitting in a redwood and peeing in a bucket while the chainsaws idle below you. (Maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point?)
Not only would a change in the terminology we use to describe the illicit antiquities trade more fully communicate the urgency and danger that is at the core of the trade and the battle against it, it might also help us reframe the trade in our own minds. Perhaps then we might focus more intently on seeing it as something to resolve, rather than as something to abolish or as an enemy to destroy. Of course it won’t be easy or quick, but by our individual efforts to find and fix the many flaws in this system, it could be possible for us to slowly but surely replace the need for the trade with new possibilities for education and economic gain.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anthropology Major Fox = YES

Am I a late arrival on this Anthropology Fox train? I think maybe that, for the internet, finding something in September that was created in March might be really freaking late. I don't know. What I do know is that I am very grateful to Savage Minds for blogging about this tumblr because I CAN'T STOP LAUGHING AT ALL THE TRUTH IN HERE.

Seriously though, I really am going to start blogging like a serious person again. I promise.

Things You Can't Take Back featured in ArchaeoinAction!

Yesterday, Things You Can't Take Back was featured in ArchaeoinAction, under Arts and Entertainment!

Thanks for the shout out!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Leonardo Patterson. Ha. Haha.

Last week at my art history tutorial, my professor mentioned that he was acquaintances with a man named Leonardo Patterson back when he lived in California. Somehow, his wife's curator ex-husband was associated with Patterson, so they had met a few times and found him memorable mostly because he had something to do with antiquities and he or his lady friend had a pet lemur or exotic cat or something. Yesterday, my professor asked me if I had looked up Leo. I had forgotten, and he said, "Well, I did, and I found a lot of interesting stuff." And then he spent the next fifteen minutes talking about the Barnes Foundation.

So I Googled Leonardo Patterson.

From the Los Angeles Times: "This guy is legendary in the field," said Michael Coe, a retired Yale anthropology professor who told authorities in 1997 that a 1997 Patterson exhibit in Spain included possible fakes. "He has managed to have a career that is just unbelieveable."

From Stanford's Cultural Heritage Resource: "Leonardo Patterson started trading Precolumbian antiquities in New York during the late 1960s. He first came to public attention in 1984 when he was arrested and charged with fraud for attempting to sell a forged Mayan fresco to Boston collector Wayne Anderson (Nagin 1984). Patterson had been asking $250,000 for the piece, which was accompanied by two photocopied letters of authentication from Donald Hales and Paul Clifford. One year later, in 1985, he was arrested at Dallas-Fort Worth airport and charged with illegally-importing into the USA a Precolumbian figurine and 36 sea turtle eggs. In 1995 he was in the news for supplying a European collector with a bronze Precolumbian brazier that was subsequently recognized to have been smuggled out of Mexico or Guatemala (Honan 1995). In response to a New York Times enquiry, Patterson’s lawyer stated that the brazier had been in Patterson’s possession for almost 30 years."

From the BBC: "Mr Patterson, 66, maintains he has done nothing wrong and says he assembled the collection legally from several other collectors. "All of that stuff, I got it in Europe. I don't traffic pieces," he told the AP."

I think maybe "interesting stuff" is KIND OF AN UNDERSTATEMENT.

Free access to Maney Archaeology and Heritage Journals!

I saw from ThenDig that Maney Publishing is offering a free 30-day trial of journals in their Archaeology and Heritage collection. As if I wasn't already on a high from ordering books from the interlibrary loan for my senior project, now I get free journal articles too? THIS IS A GOOD WEEK. Student peoples, check it out if you need sources for your work, if you need inspiration for something to write about, or if you're just interested. Free access to journals is RARE so take advantage now before the offer ends.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This is what happiness looks like.

I'm finally getting all the dozens of books that I've requested from the interlibrary loan for my senior project. Color me EXCITED.

SAFE announces Beacon Awards recipient

Congratulations to Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, authors of Chasing Aphrodite, who have received the SAFE Beacon Award for 2011, and to David Gill, professor at Swansea University and blogger at Looting Matters, who received the award for 2012! Every year, Saving Antiquities For Everyone honors someone who has made a significant contribution to educating people about and fighting against the illicit antiquities trade. I wholeheartedly agree with SAFE's choices for this year and next; Chasing Aphrodite is critical for you to read if you're the least bit interested in these issues, and David Gill's blog is one of my go-to sources for commentary and news on the trade. Congratulations to all three of you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

You should be reading Gradhacker

Gradhacker might primarily be a blog for helping grad students survive grad school, but just about every article in it is critical reading for undergrads as well. How To Read A Book probably changed my whole senior year, and Book Review: Getting Things Done - David Allen just revolutionized how I'll be working from now on. I really, really suggest going through this blog and its archives if you want to get some truly quality advice on how to work better and learn faster.

This Fall is My Favorite

Classes began at Bennington last week, proving both exciting and nauseating. Often within the same five minutes. It hasn’t even been a full week of courses yet and I’ve already read about 400 pages of assigned readings, bitched about how un-Bennington it is for visiting faculty to have less-than-acceptable amounts of respect for their students (because this is our WORK, not just that drunk space between high school and real life), and been asked to describe the primary positions in the debate on cultural/art objects and their function/meaning in museums/archaeology. PIECE OF CAKE.
This term, I tailor-made my course load to support my senior work and prepare for graduate school. My courses are so utterly and perfectly in line with my focus on cultural heritage issues that I almost want to laugh/cry/eat in happiness. If you don’t go to Bennington for theater, music, or literature, it can sometimes be difficult to find courses that support exactly what you want to do or the ideas you want to explore. We’re known for concentrating in really obscure or abstract areas, but even the illicit antiquities trade is kind of a reach for Bennington. So this term is a particularly miraculous blending of disciplines and questions that all relate to what I want to do and how I want to do it. For those of us who don’t go to schools with cultural heritage opportunities or programs for undergrad students, these are the kinds of disciplines and courses I would recommend to students who plan on pursuing cultural heritage professionally. A few I’m taking this term:
Anthropology of Art: Taught by anthropologist Miroslava Prazak, this class explores how peoples of diverse world cultures creature, use, manipulate, conceptualize, exchange, and evaluate objects of material culture. This course will tackle the anthropological concept of culture, the commercialization of the arts, the role of museums as receptacle for arts and cultural history, and questions of aesthetics. No offense to all my other courses, but this is already my favorite. Not only is this everything I want to study stuffed into one class, but Mirka is one of my  favorite professors and the people in it are all pretty quality individuals.
Solving the Impossible: Intractable Conflict: This course, taught by dancer and mediator Susan Sgorbati, explores the anatomy of so called “intractable” conflicts and how to approach them non-violently. I am so jazzed to look at the illicit antiquities through the lens of this course. It is a distinct and heady emotion. I am not kidding.
International Relations: Theory and Practice: This is just a survey IR course, but it’s going to supplement my senior work pretty critically.
Art history tutorial: I’m in a 2-credit tutorial with two other students as we research and plan our senior work in art history. I am so excited about this that I already requested like 20 books on museum studies and cultural property from the interlibrary loan.