Calls for Papers/Aug 09, 2017

Preservation and Destruction of Medieval Cultural Heritage

Preservation and Destruction of Medieval Cultural Heritage lead image

Preservation and Destruction of Medieval Cultural Heritage: Europe, the Middle East, and Contemporary Iconoclasm, 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, May 10–13, 2018

The discovery of the cultural heritage of the physical remains of the Middle Ages has only received scholarly attention in the later 20th century. Various techniques and issues have arisen involving ownership and the appropriate use of material finds. Our understanding of the identities and foundations of the period depend on our careful study of difficult and ill preserved sites. Beyond their academic importance, the preservation of this heritage and its use is intertwined with the concerns of tourism and identity in contemporary nation states. While presenting variation, the European situation has largely pursued efforts to preserve and display heritage for a wide audience. The preservation of the heritage of the Byzantine and eastern Christian world represents a far worse situation. War and pillaging both by local looting and early archaeology has endangered this heritage. Significant ongoing threats have increased with an extremist interpretation of this heritage and figural art. Beyond ISIS, numerous states and entities have pursued policies of erasure in the name of piety, progress, and expansion. International attention and academic interest for the preservation of this heritage has led to attempts to protect, preserve, or even hide the materials of the region. Few such efforts have concentrated on the preservation of those regions outside of mainstream attention but many other areas are equally endangered.

It is important for contemporary medievalists to recognize the debt they owe to these remains and the importance such sites play in our understanding of the medieval world. It is equally important for our community to understand the role we play in preserving the heritage of Europe and the Middle East and how our choices affect what survives. Questions regarding use and misuse of the past in the construction of modern identity, ideas regarding the appropriateness of figural art, and the interaction between Muslims, eastern Christians, and western Europeans could not be more salient to contemporary medieval studies. This session would explore preservation strategies while exploring the justifications of destruction.

This session aims to address questions such as the role of material culture in identity formation and the ethically responsible and appropriate methods of studying, preserving, and displaying medieval cultural heritage.

This session welcomes papers focused on, but not limited to: preservation efforts; theories regarding iconoclasm; comparative studies of destruction; analysis of object/site destruction both in the past and present; the utility of objects and sites to historical and ethno-nationalist identity and memory; ethical implications of archaeological and foreign exploration; analysis of the use and misuse of historical objects; debates regarding ownership of historical items.

Session organizer
David A Heayn, CUNY, Graduate Center