It’s Not Only Greece…

UPDATE to Feb. 26 post    

The economic impossibility of supporting heritage monuments and material culture is increasingly being felt all over the world.  It is time to reflect on the meaning of preserved buildings, their social significance, and their importance to the future.      

As the story below observes:  “Every time a historical site comes down, a little bit of who we are goes with it.”  Maybe that’s not a bad thing if our officially recognized “historical sites” are of a type that emphasizes a certain class, ethnicity, and national narrative– or a certain unchanging relationship between them.    

That’s why I tend to prefer Intangible Heritage  as a starting point for collective memory.  There is an unexhaustible supply, it can be the source of contemporary creativity, and it absolutely demands active participation, not cement and steel reinforcing beams.  Economics is again determining what we will remember and what we will forget…    

From the Middletown, NY Times Record-Herald:    

Historic sites languish without funding

Fewer resources could hurt efforts at 3 local landmarks

By Christian Livermore
Posted: February 28, 2010 – 2:00 AM

It hides behind the main house. Fading gray and green paint, boarded-up windows, and nailed to the wall, a sign: No Trespassing. Yes, no trespassing. American history here. Stay away.    

It used to be a house, the house where William Henry Seward – senator, governor, and secretary of state during the Civil War – was born.
Now it’s a barn.    

It’s one of dozens of neglected historical sites in the Hudson Valley. Sometimes it’s a lack of money, others a lack of will. To Richard Hull, professor of history at New York University and town historian of Warwick, it’s unconscionable.    

Courtesy Bannerman Castle Trust

 

“A building isn’t just four walls and a roof,” he said. “Buildings have their own genealogy. They are physical expressions of our heritage, our past.”    

Funding for historic preservation was hard to come by before the recession. Now, more and more projects are competing for less and less money. For those that don’t get it, ruin awaits.    

Case in point: Bannerman Castle in the Hudson River. Area residents awoke shortly after Christmas to find that a portion of it had collapsed.    

Every time a historical site comes down, a little bit of who we are goes with it.  State, cities have less to spend…    

Click here to read more.    

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Who says that the ruins of Gilded Age industrialists’ mansions are necessarily the most important or the most necessary thing we save?    

Outrageous Heritage Revisionism!

It’s enough to make you want to go back to the old-fashioned kind of top-down, expert-driven, monolithic heritage policies! 

Don’t deconstruct my pastrami on rye!

From the Jewish Daily Forward Feb 26:

Can the Jewish Deli Survive the Sustainable Food Movement?

By Sue Fishkoff

Berkeley, Calif. — If you’re trying to defend the Jewish deli to a roomful of locavores and food activists, it’s good to have Michael Pollan on your side.

The Berkeley, Calif.-based author of the 2006 book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” — often referred to as the bible of the sustainable food movement — was on hand February 9 for a panel discussion at the city’s Jewish community center that was billed as a referendum on the future of the Jewish deli.

At issue was whether the famously fatty, gloriously schmaltz-laden cuisine of the Ashkenazic bubbe can mind-meld with the rarefied sensibilities of the Bay Area foodie. More specifically, can a Jewish deli worthy of the name commit to seasonal menus, regional produce and locally sourced meats without sending customers screaming for the door?

Sure, the panelists declared. But they’d had their minds made up before the evening started: This wasn’t so much a referendum as a putsch.

Leading the charge were Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt, co-owners of Saul’s Deli, a kosher-style Jewish deli down the block from Chez Panisse, über-chef Alice Water’s famed eatery, the birthplace of California cuisine, and the place where Levitt got his training.

Adelman and Levitt’s position is clear: What American Jews think of as the authentic Jewish deli is an ossified construct based on post-World War II ideals of abundance that had little to do with how Jews ate in early 20th-century New York, let alone in the Old World. 

That mile-high, fatty pastrami sandwich served at Katz’s or the Carnegie Deli? American, not Jewish, they say. Jewish cooking a century ago was all about thrift, seasonality and resourcefulness. Every part of the animal was used; portions were small; tomatoes were served in summer, and beets in winter.

Today’s customers want everything on the menu year-round; if they don’t get it, Levitt said, “they complain it isn’t a ‘real’ Jewish deli.”

“‘Authentic’ is a moving target,” Adelman added, pointing out how Jewish cuisine in this country has developed with each new immigration wave. “What we’re arguing is, we’re more authentic. What’s authentic about mass-produced food and giant menus?”

[…]

Click here to read more.

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Now this is a debate about heritage authenticity…

Can Privatization of the Parthenon Be Far Away?

From The Guardian Feb. 26

Greece’s ancient treasures fall victim to €300bn debt crisis

Plato’s Academy and Alexander’s birthplace are among the historic sites lying desolate and neglected

Helena Smith in Athens

It was the world’s first university, where Plato taught, Aristotle studied and philosophy was born. But today as buses hurtle down the boulevard that bisects the park, past grey highrises, it is hard to believe this is one of the Greek capital’s ancient treasures; Plato’s Academy is so overlooked it is not even signposted.

“We haven’t managed to save the €7,000 [£4,500] such a sign would require,” says Nikoletta Divari Vilakou, the archaeologist in charge. “And that’s because of the economic problems.”

The crisis that has gripped Greece, rocked markets and rattled Europe’s single currency is now enveloping the country’s cultural heritage. The seat of learning, founded on property the philosopher inherited in 387BC, is not alone. This year, antiquities beneath the Acropolis stood under tangled weeds, testimony to the overstretched culture ministry’s inability to clean and prune.

Nationwide, some of Greece’s greatest glories – museums, castles and antiquities – have been closed to the public, from Kastellorizo in the east to Pella, Alexander’s birthplace, in the north. Like the desolate tourist shops alongside them, the ancient sites are devoid of holidaymakers, symbolic of the recession engulfing the nation…

[…]

…The scale of the crisis has not been lost on the governing socialists elected to run Europe’s weakest economy after five years of scandal-plagued conservative rule. Unlike his predecessors, the new culture minister, Pavlos Geroulanos, a friend of the prime minister George Papandreou, readily acknowledges that although by far the nation’s most significant resource, the sector remains painfully under-funded.

“Culture and tourism represent over 20% of GDP, a huge chunk of the economy,” he told the Guardian. “We are the first to admit that for far too long culture has been marginalised, that not enough money has been dedicated to it, that we keep our ancient monuments away from the public and close them down”…

Click here to read more.

Hey! What is SHE doing here?

UPDATE  to post of February 14 on recent archaeological discoveries in Mongolia and Italy

Seems like people are turning up in the strangest places these days. 

This time it is the physical anthropological re-analysis of a skeleton of the Roman period dug up in the British city of York in 1901.  The results have enormous modern relevance.  But is this archaeological progress, or just a reduction of our own cultural blindness? 

This time it’s a woman.

And this time she’s African.

And this time, though the archaeologists again have to resort to an elaborate story of exotic, high status contact between distant populations, they stress that the population of Roman Britain was far more multi-ethnic than our school textbooks might suggest– and that populations in antiquity were always a lot more heterogeneous than the mythmakers of racial purity (ancient and modern) would have us believe.

Click here for more information on the University of Reading’s intriguing “Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain” archaeological project.

Heritage as Worthwhile Reflection

There are so many cases of the abuse, misuse, and cynical manipulation of traces from the past, that I have to stress something that offers at least a glimmer of hope.

Yes, there were abuses, bureaucratic boondoggles, and scientific wrangles over the excavation and commemoration of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan

But as I look at the conflicts between heritage administrations and local communities all over the world about the proper regard for human dignity and historical reflection, I cannot think of a better example of a project that, at the end of the day, benefitted everyone.

A Burial Ground and Its Dead Are Given Life

From the New York Times  Feb 26
 
By Edward Rothstein
 

Cemeteries are at least as much for the living as the dead. They are the locus of tribute and memory; they affirm connections to a place and its past.

So in 1991, when during construction of a General Services Administration office building in Lower Manhattan, graves were discovered 24 feet below ground, and when those remains led to the discovery of hundreds of other bodies in the same area, and when it was determined that these were black New Yorkers interred in what a 1755 map calls the “Negros Burial Ground,” the earth seemed to shake from more than just machinery. The evidence created a conceptual quake, transforming how New York history is understood and how black New Yorkers connect to their past.

That is a reason why Saturday’s opening of the African Burial Ground Visitor Center, near where these remains were reinterred, is so important. Among the scars left by the heritage of slavery, one of the greatest is an absence: where are the memorials, cemeteries, architectural structures or sturdy sanctuaries that typically provide the ground for a people’s memory?…

… The new visitor center, inside the federal building that was ultimately constructed over a portion of the excavation (the other part became a burial site and memorial), is meant to explain the site’s significance — not a simple task, because the passions stirred by the discovery were not just historical, but also personal. There was a felt connection to the people, unearthed in their disintegrating coffins, who in the early decades of the city’s settlement were often forced into its construction. A sacral regard for the dead was joined with a sense of identification and continuity…

…So there is still much more to be understood about the history of slavery and black Americans in New York. But in the meantime the burial ground gives back to both the “descendant community” and to everybody else a sense that we are all arising out of a more complex and painful past than we have often imagined.

Click here for entire story

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Note the contrast with the last post about the “Tomb Economy” in rural China…

The Tomb Economy: A Sure-Fire Way to End Illegal Looting

How to end unorganized private looting of ancient tombs?  Make it legal!  Make it a corporate, state-run enterprise that multiplies heritage parks and tourist attractions beyond counting…  

Just look at this follow-up to the Cao Cao story.  Could it just be an antiquarian Ponzi scheme that will eventually collapse, leaving people all over the world without their historical/ cultural capital?  

From the China Daily Feb 25:  

Unearthing a tomb economy

By Wang Shanshan

Excavation of the purported tomb of Three Kingdoms Period emperor Cao Cao has got some people thinking they could be sitting on a goldmine too. Wang Shanshan reports  

Farmer’s wife Chen Shufen searched through her family’s shabby two-room house for half a day looking for evidence of an emperor.  

“I had to be careful. Maybe I would find a cultural relic from the emperor’s tomb,” she says.  

Like Chen, more than 300 farmers of Lianhua village, Pengshan county of Meishan, Sichuan province, also poked around their houses in the same hope.  

Authenticity Tests in the Tomb of Cao Cao

 

Pengshan county government had issued an official notice and asked all its residents to report any artifacts or documents that might shed light on the emperor’s purported tomb.  

There is a legend that Liu Bei (AD161-223), the founding emperor of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period (AD208-280), was buried in Lianhua village, also known as Lotus Village.  

“Now that Cao Cao is out, Liu Bei is too lonely to stay in his tomb. We should get Liu Bei out too,” says Fang Ming, deputy director of the Pengshan cultural bureau.  

Cao Cao (AD155-220), King Wu of Wei Kingdom, in the Three Kingdoms Period, made news headlines across China last December when a tomb that may belong to him was discovered in Xigaoxue village, Anyang, Henan province. The Anyang tourism bureau plans to build a national park at the site of the tomb.  

Following the discovery, the term “tomb economy” was coined. The business has such lucrative potential there have been big disagreements when various places have claimed the tombs of Three Kingdoms personalities.  

As for Liu Bei, three places in Southwest China, where he built his kingdom, said they have his tomb. They are Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan, Pengshan county of Sichuan, and Fengjie county of Chongqing municipality.  

In Pengshan, 13 farmers in Lianhua village signed a letter to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage requesting the excavation of a 21 m hill in the village, where they believe Liu’s tomb lies…  

But also a word of reason:  

…”Before we focused on economic development and there have already been great losses to our cultural heritage,” says Feng Jicai, author and chairman of the Chinese Folk Artists’ Association.  

“Now there is an economic crisis and governments are using culture as a tool to boost development, so there may be even more danger than before to our cultural heritage,” he says.  

“Some development of cultural heritage sites can be good. However, such development is often related to the political achievements of officials and economic gains of businesses, so it ends up damaging our cultural heritage,” Feng says.

Everyone’s legends are mythical, Mr. Minister

from News.az:

We are not Armenians who can make up mythical legends, says Azerbaijani minister

Wed 24 February 2010 | 10:44 GMT 

We have a rich history and cultural heritage that we should save and advocate in the world”, the minister said.
 
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism holds an event devoted to implementation of large scale projects in the sphere of preservation of material and immaterial cultural heritage of Azerbaijan.  New mechanisms and concepts to ensure preservation of the country’s cultural heritage will be developed within the framework of the said events…
Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfaz Garayev highly appreciated the implementation of these programs and spoke for raising placards, installing billboards, reminding that these cities are declared the regional centers of different cultural events in each of this city.
“We are not Armenians who could make up mythical legends. We have a rich history and cultural heritage that we should save and advocate in the world”, the minister said.