Moonbeams and Cultural Heritage Management (Update)

Thanks to Professor Margie Purser of Sonoma State University for sending along an article that provides some welcome context for the recent listing of artifacts at Tranquility Base on the Moon as a California State Historical Resource.  It apparently began as a worthwhile academic exercise, not just a case of bureaucratic megalomania:

Archeologist Helps Get Moon Junk on Historical Resources List

The Historical Resources Commission for the state of California recently listed 106 items left on the moon from the landing of Apollo 11 on the Historical Resources List. Archaeologist Lisa Westwood had worked alone on the project before encountering three others with a similar goal: Beth O’Leary, Department of Anthropology, New Mexico State University; Ralph Gibson, Placer County Museums; and John Versluis, Texas Heritage Museum. “Together, we had more than 40 years invested in getting the objects on a historical resource list. I think it’s interesting that that’s the length of time since the Apollo mission,” said Westwood.

Four years ago, in Westwood’s class Society, Time, Archaeology, she talked about resources management and what qualifies for protection. She used the artifacts left on the moon and Tranquility Base as an example of a site that was not old, but was worthy of some protection. It is a case study of a site that doesn’t fit well with existing law and protocol.

“After open discussions with students, it occurred to me, has anyone tried to get this listed? I contacted NASA; they’ve been very nice and supportive. The wall I hit with NASA is that any one country as part of an international treaty can’t claim the lunar surface. The way it stands right now, there is no protection for these objects or the site.”  Read More…

*   *   *

Interesting that NASA has “lost” some of the original documentation– and I do recognize that there is an interesting heritage management exercise here. 

But the heritage of Apollo 11 is not ONLY on the moon.  Any potential World Heritage Nomination (to be a realistic project– even as a realistic academic project) would have to consider a transboundary serial nomination linking a number of places, things, and people in a number of countries (“states-parties”) around the world that contributed in some way to the moon landing or perhaps to the wider 1950s-1960s pioneering exploration of space.

For an example of this kind of “scientific achievement” transboundary serial World Heritage Site, see the Struve Geodetic Arc, inscribed in 2005.  This would eliminate the “sovereignty” problem– and in fact such initiatives have already been discussed.

It would be a fantastic subject for collaboration between all the world’s space agencies…

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I’m in Paris this week to participate in a conference on the Archaeology of Judaism in France and Europe, sponsored jointly by the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme and the Institut National de Recerches Archeologiques Préventatives (INRAP).

More and more excavations are being conducted throughout Europe, probing the buried remains of their medieval Jewish Quarters– and examining the traces of everyday life in simple houses and shops– not only in monumental religious structures like synagogues and ritual baths.

This has enormous potential of providing new information about the Jews of Medieval Europe (Christendom’s most familiar and despised Other) and to see just how impermeable or porous were the cultural boundaries between Christians and Jews.  For just as archaeology revolutionized our understanding of the early Israelites, it can do the same with medieval European Jews. 

What were their paths of migration?  How did they make their livings?  What trade links did they establish?  Were they a genetically coherent group or a European-subculture that adopted the trappings of a venerable religion and linked itself to its social networks?  Did their diet and lifeways remain unswervingly faithful to Mosaic law?  Was there an evolution of communal characteristics?  What did it mean to be a Jew in 11th century Rhineland, 13th century Languedoc, or 14th century Andalusia? 

The written sources and conventional histories all have answers to these questions.  But archaeology offers a perspective that highlights what people actually did rather than what their elites and religious leaders (later?) said they did.  Maybe the potsherds, animal bones, coins, tools, and graffiti excavated in medieval Jewish sites from across Europe have a different story to tell…

Simply to interpret the archaeological finds by what we already know or are told by the texts is nothing more than circular reasoning and circular interpretation.  Let’s see what the archaeological finds say.

More about this in the coming days.

When Does Memory Collide With History?

I have recently noticed three highly publicized new books about Theodore Roosevelt, probably the perfect American hero for a schizophrenic age.  Two of them, The Big Burn by Timothy Egan and The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley style TR as an ecological crusader– an avatar of the environmental movement, an anti-corporate crusader and defender of America’s vast ecological heritage. 

The other book, The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley, is a strangely neo-con, unflatteringly revisionist portrait of “Big Stick” Roosevelt, who apparently talked a big game but dispatched a secret diplomatic mission to Asia to conclude self-serving non-agression pacts with China, Japan, and Korea.  And as the author suggests, those disastrously accommodationist agreements made later War in the Pacific all but inevitable. 

So here, are both sides of today’s political spectrum:  from the Left, Teddy Roosevelt is reborn as an outdoorsy Al Gore and from the Right, as a naive Obama-style appeaser, who should have stood up to looming threats when he had a chance.  Which is the authentic TR, or does it even matter?  His icon-like status makes him fair game for historical reinterpretation that subtly expresses what the various authors hope or fear our future will be.

I have to admit that I don’t really know much about the authentic Teddy Roosevelt (and which of the books among the hundreds written about him) have captured him accurately.  He is a long-ago historical figure, like Julius Caesar or George Washington to most.  But I treasure a delicate thread of personal memory about him that ties him to my consciousness in a way that is both powerful and mundane. 

My grandfather Harry Kimball (c. 1900-1980), then a (wide-eyed?) 12 year old, stood in a crowd outside the train station in Salem, Massachusetts during the Presidential Campaign of 1912, when former President Teddy Roosevelt came to town.  My grandfather couldn’t remember the speech or any of the historical facts of the campaign, but he did always speak of two particular details that I will never forget when I hear or read TR’s name.

The first was that he was surprised at how high Roosevelt’s voice was.  The Rough Rider President may have pounded the podium for the muscular political ideology of his “Bull Moose Party” but he did it with a professorial calmness rather that a Rough Rider’s roar.

The second detail was more collective: suddenly in the middle of the speech a long freight train roared through Salem Station.  The former President and the crowd who had gathered to hear him had to wait silently, impatiently for a few uncomfortable minutes until the thunderous noise and vibration passed by.

Memory is simple (simplistic?), embodied, and incredibly vivid.  History is complex, cerebral, and chameleon-like.  Which is more authentic?  How does each so differently tie us to the past?