Heritage: Contested and Conflicted

Emma Croft
ITP Coordinator

ICOM has recently announced the theme for its annual International Museum Day – “Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums“.

Organised on and around 18 May each year, International Museum Day aims to raise awareness of the fact that, “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”

In choosing the topic of ‘contested’ heritage, it aims to highlight the ways in which museums and heritage organisations can address often painful and traumatic histories, and work to support processes of peace and reconciliation.

By acknowledging contested viewpoints and inviting debates, ICOM hopes to broaden understanding of people’s own histories and futures.

We’re currently looking at ways in which the ITP network can be involved and we’ll keep you updated – in the meantime do get in touch with any of your ideas!

Tree of Life and Throne of Weapons.jpg
The Tree of Life – ©Trustees of the British Museum

Moving from the subject of presenting conflict and contested histories after they occur, how can we understand the motives behind perpetuating conflict and contest, or targeting heritage during conflicts?

Johan Brosché, Mattias Legnér, Joakim Kreutz & Akram Ijla (Palestine, ITP 2012) from Uppsala University aim to answer these questions in their article ‘Heritage under attack: motives for targeting cultural property during armed conflict’.

In the article, the authors identify four main factors in the targeting of heritage sites: (i) attacks related to conflict goals (ii), military-strategic attacks (iii) signalling attacks and (iv) economic incentives. They argue that deepening our understanding of why attacks occur will help improve policy-making, management of heritage sites and ultimately, ways in which they can be protected.

You can read the whole article here, and we welcome your thoughts on how the ITP network can acknowledge ICOM International Museum Day, and to encourage conversations around these important and urgent issues.

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