Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: Rebekah Junkermeier from the Sustainable Preservation Initiative

Back when I was still in summer-mode, I had the foresight to ask a few treasured people if they would write guest posts for me on how they got interested in cultural heritage issues, and how they turned it into a career. Since issues of looting and cultural heritage aren't exactly mainstream career choices, I've always been super interested in how everyone in this community fell into it in the first place. I'm so pleased that my friend Rebekah Junkermeier from the Sustainable Preservation Initiative has agreed to be the first! We've been trading drafts of posts for each other all winter, but it is particularly fortuitous that the finished product here comes in tandem with SPI's current crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. Show my gurl and this great organization some love. 

Recently, I’ve been reading Christ Stopped at Eboli, Carlo Levi’s account of his experiences in the small, poverty-stricken village of Gagliano during Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy. One quote of his in particular, when he reflects on the process of writing the book, resonated with me as I think about my own journey to and in the field of cultural heritage:

“The process developed in successive books, changing the author’s spirit and body and words while in a period explosive with new awareness other men also changed. The process is not, and has never been, identification with a datum, a flight into objectivity, but is rather discernment of love.”

I am not trying to draw a parallel between Carlo Levi’s experience with destitution and poverty and my career-path to cultural heritage. However, I am trying to highlight some counterpoints between his process and mine, which have helped me make sense of my own journey so far: intellectual development, self-awareness and awareness of the world around me, and the effect of this new awareness on the direction of my career. To use the words of Levi, I found my journey to be a step away from attempts at “objectivity” and illusions of “data” and towards the discernment of love and truth and acts of justice and empowerment.

My interest in cultural heritage began with a curiosity for all things ancient. This led me from Dartmouth College to Turkey to a master’s program at Harvard Divinity School as preparation for a PhD program, focusing on early Christian and Roman history. While advancing my Greek and Latin and learning Coptic (the ancient Egyptian language written in the Greek alphabet), I also immersed myself in the texts and history of the time period. But while I and fellow classmates stared at enlarged photographs of rare Coptic manuscripts, arguing whether that letter was an alpha or an omicron, or read about the female figurines found all over Bronze- and Iron-Age Israel and debated whether they were representations of idols or the goddess Asherah, a voice in the back of my mind was always (annoyingly) saying, “So what? What am I actually doing with this?”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hi + Cool Anti-Looting Apparel

I’ve put off coming back to blogging for the last six months for a number of admittedly lame reasons. Grad school is time consuming, I wasn’t sure how to approach this blog as a postgraduate, I may have forgotten how to blog in general, why should I subject myself to more criticism and self doubt when I already subject myself to all that daily through the joyous self-flagellation of grad school, grad school is time consuming, etc. But now I’m back and it’s going to be great and haphazard as usual, with three particular caveats:
  1.  I last left this blog as a recent undergraduate, pretty much flailing ambitiously, believing enthusiasm would probably make up for the lack of disciplinary cohesion. Now, as a postgraduate criminologist, my perspective on these issues has shifted drastically to a more sophisticated criminological framework. So what you see here in the future will undoubtedly reflect a more structured criminological perspective, rather than the mix of hostility and earnestness I was fond of previously.
  2.  The next three years of my life were recently determined by myself, but let’s face it, mostly by my supervisors, Neil Brodie and Simon Mackenzie, as I looked on and nodded solemnly like I wasn’t terrified or confused. My PhD research at the University of Glasgow (and my Masters dissertation as well) will focus on the antiquities market coming out of West Africa, principally Mali, Nigeria, and Niger. As a consequence, I may be more preoccupied than usual with these countries.
  3.  I think I initially geared this blog toward undergrads because I assumed graduate students actually know something about something and wouldn’t need some sassy little undergrad to break it down for them. As a current graduate student, I can happily confirm that we all only kind of know what we’re doing if we know at all, and anyone breaking down anything is almost always pretty useful. So some key terminology in the “About” sections and such has been altered to reflect this.

So for my first order of business, check out this really amazing "Give a Hoot, Don't Loot" design created by student Serena Abdallah. Not only is this really quality design work, but I'm kind of digging (haha, pun!) that it's not associated with any particular organization. It's just a really beautiful design you can wear or hang as a reminder that this stuff matters, and you'd be supporting a student who obviously cares about these things as well.