Eunamus at the conference Re-theoretisation of heritage

Two panels on the first day of The inaugural conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies in Gothenburg 5-8 June are organised of researchers involved in the three-year research project Eunamus on European national museums.

José María Lanzarote-Guiral and Andrzej Jakubowski (including Felicity Bodenstein) has initated a panel on hertitage conflicts in museums and project coordinator Peter Aronsson co-organises one on the intersection of research and cultural policy with Kylie Message  at the Australian National University.

Panel abstracts below.

Critical research and the quest for policy relevance: the case of national museums

Museums as other forms of institutionally acknowledged cultural heritage negotiate truth claims by connecting scientific, political and social realms of logics. Academic research defines itself in terms of autonomy and critical distance to political influences. Research is however often funded by political bodies and cultural research has traditionally been a backbone of reproducing nationalism and the order of things. The critique of this from within cultural research has led to new positions and re-evaluation of these roles. Balancing the need for autonomy and the quest for relevance is today again more relevant because of the double threat to cultural research from academic and societal marginalization and instrumentalization for new political goals and a cultural economy. This panel will discuss the dilemmas and possibilities created in the intermission between research and politically formulated hopes and demands for policy relevance to museums and researchers. Interactions investigated in the panel range from researcher and activists to policy makers on gender equality, ethnic and European integration, that is some of the major quests for relevance made during the last decades.

Quarreling over the Spoils of History: (Re)locating Heritage Conflicts in Current Domestic Practice and Museums’ Policies

The panel aims at re-exploring the topic of heritage conflicts in current domestic state practice and museum policies. Indeed, the area of material cultural heritage may currently be  perceived as a battlefield of various interests concerning the fate and appropriation of certain cultural assets. Such conflicts are framed within a broader topic of legal claims for the return of cultural property, on the one hand, and social debates, on the other. The panel focuses on internal conflicts – within one jurisdiction – as to the title and the ‘right’ to cultural heritage. It attempts to map the major contexts in which such demands are raised. These inter alia include the clashes of interests between centralized state cultural institutions, such as museums and archives and sub-state entities: local communities, legal persons and individuals. The panel will discuss such heritage conflicts in relation to the socio-political vicissitudes that European nations have experienced in the last thirty years, i.e. democratization, decentralization, reprivatization and territorial reconfigurations.

The panel will be structured into three individual papers (c. 20-25 minute) exploring specific case-studies, followed by a discussion (c. 30 minute). The first paper, by F. Bodenstein, will approach the question of restitutions from a theoretical perspective, using concepts developed in sociology and anthropology, especially related to the notion of the “gift”. The second one, by J.M. Lanzarote, will deal with the topic of the disputed heritage of the Spanish Civil War by discussing several cases related to the Law of Historical Memory, passed by the Parliament in 2007, such as the polemic generated by the restitution of the so-called “Salamanca records” to Catalonia in 2005 or the renovation of the Museum of the Spanish Army, reopened in 2010. The third paper, by A. Jakubowski, will refer to the ongoing debate in Poland as to the legal title and the moral right to ecclesiastic cultural property nationalized by the Polish administration in 1945-1946 in the former German and Danzig’s territories. Finally, we will present an online database of cases related contested heritage currently being developed within the framework of the EuNaMus project (European national museums: Identity politics, the uses of the past and the European citizen). The core objective of this initiative is to establish ‘the first systematic overview of the wars of heritage in European museums’, which will serve as an important tool for the comparative analysis of the restitution cases.

From a methodological point of view, the papers will adopt an interdisciplinary perspective embracing both legal aspects and the historical and symbolic contexts, as well as the ethical and moral significance of contested cultural objects. The papers and the subsequent discussion will explore the outcomes and shortcomings of current practice of domestic judicial and administrative bodies, including the policies of public museums or archives concerning the accommodation of heritage-related claims. They will aim at identifying certain similarities/common tendencies and advocate some alternative methods of settling such disputes.

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