In August 2015, ISIS beheaded the 82-year-old Syrian archeologist and director of the ancient city of Palmyra, Khaled al-Assaad, because he refused to reveal the location of invaluable ancient artifacts. Among the innumerable vicious acts of parbarism committed by ISIS in recent years, Mr. al-Assad's grisly death provoked particular horror and outrage in the international media and on social networks.
Why are we so touched by the Syrian archaeologist's heroic act? When, how, and why did the centuries-old ruins and monuments become cultural heritage to protect and die for? Through which historical processes did the people of the Middle East assign meaning and significance to their monuments, artifacts, and archaeological sites?
This seminar will examine the history of the concept of "cultural heritage" in the modern Middle East from its inception in the nineteenth century until the present. We will explore the emergence of concerns for archaeological sites and architectural monuments, and the ability of cultural heritage to shore up contested claims of identity, ideology, and political legitimacy.
Eligible for Museums and Cultural History minor credit.