1 February 2010 was the official starting date for the research project Eunamus – Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen. Eunamus celebrates the project’s first birthday by opening this blog.
Eunamus already has a website and a regularly distributed Newsletter. Why then start a blog? Well, the most important aim of this blog is to connect to those of you out there who have a burning interest in the future of national museums, the uses of the past and identity in Europe and elsewhere. The hope is that this blog will create new opportunities for discussion and networking. News will be out quicker and hopefully in a more personal note.
This blog then, will be part of an enhanced effort to dialog with people outside the academy as well as researchers. A blog no way guarantees that dialogues will happen, but it surely increases the possibilities. It’s time for Eunamus 2.0
Blogs should be focused. The focus here is on national museums and how they are approached from different angles by researchers, cultural politicians and citizens. Me and my colleagues in the project will report from fieldwork, conferences and other events and reflect upon cultural policy issues.
Very soon you will find links to other blogs relevant to museum research and cultural policy here. Later on, I plan to make more use of Eunamus’ Facebook group, to connect to citizens interested enough in national museums to become their friends on Facebook. Eunamus will also produce wikis on master narratives and European heritage conflicts.
Today museums matter. As I was writing this blog post, I heard on the televisions news that looters had broke into the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, to vandalise and to loot. But there was more news, some citizens on the streets had taken time from protesting against the regime to protect the exhibitions and the building. When following the trail of information from Swedish state television to CNN and Al Jazeera, I found that these major news channels had devoted web space to worries about heritage looting. While Al Jazeera reported in a sort of neutral tone on soldiers securing the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities from looting and vandalism, and the risks of the building to be damaged due to its location in the midst of the protests, articles on CNN were far more emotional. They were constructed around a selection of citations from interviews, twitter feeds, websites and Facebook entries by heritage specialists and Egyptologists. When reading their words and the interpretations that were made out of them, I was struck by the symbolic value that was attached to heritage. How it was made to define Egyptian identity, but also to connect people across borders. The more or less explicit message in the CNN pieces was: heritage from this area not only concerns the Egyptians but everybody in the (Western part of the) world.
Paul Sussman, The battle for Egypt’s past, CNN, January 31, 2011
Ashley Hayes, Egyptologists fear for relics amid unrest, CNN, January 31, 2011
Looting spreads in Egyptian cities, Al Jazeera, January 29 2011
Posted by Bodil Axelsson, dissemination and dialogs for Eunamus
Interesting comment about how museums and heritage obviously matter in Egypt these days (as they did in Iraque and Afghanistan during other recent conflicts). Their symbolic value is invariably connected to very traditional identity politics where collective identities are linked to national origins and the heritage that testifies of them. This politics can be liberating but often it is chauvinistic in character.
When there are global values linked to national museums and heritage, they are sometimes linked to imperialistic notions. According to that logic, Afghan or Iraqi heritage is “really” of global significance and it is thus right that the US and other Western states take responsibility for it….
The question emerges whether heritage (and national museums) can have any other symbolic value in such contexts. I for one will be looking our for any indications in Egypt over the coming days and weeks!
See also here http://neilsilberman.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/which-mob/
True, it is an interesting case to follow for the possible roles played by heritage in escalating conflicts and in conflict resolution. For attempts to the latter see Heritage without borders, UNESCO on Balkans and Bridging ages:
Best practices in museum management: dealing with difficult heritage, educating on history