Link: UMass Amherst Center for Heritage & Society

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Link: UMass Amherst Center for Heritage & Society – http://www.umass.edu/chs/

The UMass Amherst Center for Heritage and Society (CHS) is a multidisciplinary initiative to craft new approaches to heritage conservation and communication around the world. CHS offers research opportunities for scholars working in heritage related fields such as archaeology, history, environmental science, landscape architecture and regional planning, European studies, Native American Indian Studies, Afro-American Studies, Classics, legal studies, and public policy. Additionally, the Center provides undergraduate and graduate students with training and experience in heritage planning and management.

Link: Leiden-Stanford Heritage Network

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Link: Leiden-Stanford Heritage Network – http://www.networkedheritage.org

The Leiden-Stanford Heritage Network represents a group of heritage ethnographers, practitioners and scholars committed to establishing an innovative set of contributions to heritage practice. The site establishes a globally accessible resource for those working in the heritage sector – from student ethnographers to established consultants and managers – to develop discussion and debate about the current crises facing the global heritage sphere today. Our purpose is to create a space for productive dialog between those who study heritage landscapes, those who define heritage policy and those who are directly affected by heritage initiatives. Our focus aims at addressing current heritage problematics at both the conceptual and practical levels. Presenting original research that underscores the value of the ethnographic approach for understanding the sociopolitical context of stakeholder groups, we hope to provide a timely discussion on the current institutional frameworks and globalist discourses currently shaping the concept of heritage. Our project is based on a commitment to thinking through practical solutions that can help reshape and rethink the heritage sector in more inclusive and democratic terms.

Cultural Citation? The Plagiarism Analogy as a Tool for Understanding Cultural Property Regimes

By Regina Bendix and Kilian Bizer

Germany is currently shaken by revelations that defense minister Karl Theodor von Guttenberg’s dissertation is ripe with plagiarized passages. After struggling to keep the upper hand for five days, he asked his alma mater to revoke the doctoral degree so as to be rid of the discussion. Yet regardless of Minister von Guttenberg’s political future, thinking about the principles involved in academic integrity provides food for thought with regard to cultural property.

Plagiarism is a citation or paraphrase without proper attribution. A passage from a known author that assists my argument or that I would like to argue against in my own work of scholarship must be set apart with quotation marks, and a footnote will tell the reader just where I found this passage. Generally, neither the person I quote nor I will earn anything from such academic integrity, but I benefit in as much as proper craftsmanship allows others to check my integrity as a scholar and my standing in the academic community will hopefully stay steady. The only one profiting from such integrity is the reader as he can follow the arguments and counterarguments throughout the discussion and can determine who misinterpreted or simply misunderstood one another. Such transparency allows the reader to build up her own knowledge.

There are some insights and phrases that are harder to cite. “All the world’s a stage” might be from Shakespeare, but it might have already been said by Aristotle. It is a phrase that has reached proverbial status; its copyright status has, with the passing of centuries or even millennia, been eased, it is common knowledge.

Traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge – the core elements in WIPO terminology of cultural property debates – are, so to speak, on their way in the other direction. Long held to be part of a commons (naturally with various restrictions, such as, for instance, ritual knowledge), the increasing interest in culture as a resource fosters vying for property rights and delineating ownership.

The question is: can one bring some more logic into the struggle to devise cultural property regimes through an analogy with plagiarism? Is, for instance, the European Union’s geographic indication system for various foods analogous to a citation? Does a sui generis right for a particular cultural practice assist potential users/buyers to acknowledge the originators of this practice?

Most of all, is humanity capable of such a switch? If, again, we turn to plagiarism: while academics punish plagiarism, literary authors, composers, indeed, many artists enjoy a great deal more license. When we savor a work of art, we also savor its intertextual reference to other works we may know. A composer may note that a particular composition represents variations on a theme by an earlier musician – but perhaps he also builds on the education of his audience who recognizes the allusion. A painter or photographer or movie director may “quote” excerpts from an earlier work and the audience may (or may not) savor the craft with which the lineage is established. Artists have also long built on folk traditions, from Dvorak’s Slavonic dances to various fashion designers borrowing elements of folk costume, to mention just one of countless examples. Again, the “citations” are generally known, often the artists openly state their artistic debts to one or another cultural commons.

The issue, then, would seem to be twofold: the cultural citation that is not openly acknowledged and its use for personal or exclusive gain. If it were possible to delimit cultural property regimes in such a way to focus on penalizing and thus forestalling such cases, one might also be able to keep open the cultural commons for the kind of artistic trade and aesthetic growth that has made cultural contact essential and enriching in human existence.

The plagiarism of Germany’s defense minister demonstrates how important it is to be transparent about one’s sources in order to participate in a culture which acknowledges the works of others and respects them for it. In academia, the sharing of ideas works comparatively well because of the strict institutionalized rule to identify the sources. The task would then be to find analogous rules for the realm of cultural property.

New WIPO Publication on IP and Traditional Culture

screen-shot-2010-12-17-at-103759-am At the 17th session of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), WIPO Director General Francis Gurry launched a new publication titled “Intellectual Property and the Safeguarding of Traditional Cultures: Legal Issues and Practical Options for Museums, Libraries and Archives.”

The publication, written by Molly Torsen and Jane Anderson for WIPO, “offers intellectual property information for cultural institutions whose collections comprise TCEs and presents examples of best practices from around the world, drawn from various institutional and community experiences.” It can be downloaded here (PDF version).

More Thoughts on Dignity: Gargoyles in Lyon, the Qur'an in Florida

This morning Regina Bendix sent me a BBC story about stonemasons working on Lyon Cathedral. Following the millenial Catholic architectural tradition, they decorate the building’s exterior not only with fantastic creatures and details of everyday life but also with portraits of one another. A new gargoyle in Lyon charmingly immortalizes one of the master masons, a French Muslim who has worked for decades on the renovation of French religious monuments. A far-right group calling itself Les Jeunes Identitaires Lyonnais—see what pretty things breed inside the black box of identity!—has denounced this “Muslim takeover” of a Catholic monument (as if Muslims were a new presence in the south of France). A church spokesman, on the other hand, says that the church authorities neither authorized nor condemns the gargoyle. His endorsement is not exactly a ringing call for ecumenical inclusion: “In history, gargoyles were always profane figures and a chance for irony and satire. In any case, they’re not inside the church.” Nonetheless it reflects the accommodation that Catholicism has traditionally made with social reality, policing orthodoxy inside enclosed spaces of power (cathedrals, texts, liturgies) while accepting that mixity and instability are the price of popular participation, so that the excrescences of buildings, the marginalia of manuscripts, and some of the festivals calqued upon holy days offer richly untidy encyclopedias of everything formally excluded from the center. Dignity and purity are trumped by a recognition that the reality is always more complex than our chosen picture of it.

That was the morning’s email. On the radio was President Obama denouncing the loony pastor of the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, who has announced his intention to burn copies of the Qur’an on September 11th. The President echoed General Petraeus’ recent statement that such an action would damage US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, alienate the Muslim world, and endanger American troops. The pastor reports with a certain complacency that he has had 300 death threats and says that he is willing to meet with the President to discuss the matter.

American representatives from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the mayor of Gainesville have appropriately denounced the proposed action as marginal, extremist, and profoundly alien to the spirit of the Founding Fathers. But the most intelligent immediate response seems to be that of the Muslim community of Gainesville. One local imam is asking his congregation not to turn up and protest but, if they wish to do something, to spend Saturday volunteering in local hospitals or charities. He cites the desire to avoid escalation, and given the current hysterical tone of American political life this is certainly prudent; as Heine famously observed, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen. But perhaps he is also inclined to put a damper on the discursive escalation. Petraeus’ comments have helped to up the ante, so that this small man in Florida is suddenly able to call for meetings with the President; he suddenly holds international relations in the palm of his hand; he is credited by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari with the power to “cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace.” Heady stuff for a pastor with a flock of 50 people. One thinks of the delight the Taliban took in announcing their intention to blow up the Bamiyan Buddhas, in exciting the outrage of the world, and at last in carrying out the execution of it.

Which takes me to cultural property concerns more narrowly defined. Bruno Frey and Paolo Panini (2010) have suggested that UNESCO designations and other international instruments of recognition may endanger cultural monuments in conflict situations by raising their value as targets, citing not just the Buddhas but the destruction of the Mostar Bridge, the bombings of Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, and the border conflict over the Temple of Preah Vihar, studied in our own project (Hauser-Schäublin, in press). A copy of the Qur’an has a different status, to be sure. It is not a unique physical monument; when copies are burned, the text remains. But apart from the generally powerful symbolism of book-burning in the modern world, the burning of a Qur’an is an act of profanation and an outrage to believers. Thus another issue arises that is often invoked in international initiatives to protect cultural goods: that of moral rights over sacred things, the idea that the dignity of peoples, cultures, or belief systems is vulnerable to the misuse of cultural goods by outsiders.

Petraeus’ comments on the proposed Qur’an burning remind me of one of the famous “koans” expressed in U.S. Army/Marines Field Manual 3-24, the counterinsurgency handbook produced by Petraeus and his team in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle: “Insurgents succeed by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the government fails unless it maintains a degree of order everywhere.” Many would argue that the US’s ambition (that of states in general) to maintain order everywhere has greatly increased the force of disorder in the world, with global apparatuses mobilized to address every local disruption and raising the stakes thereof. The image of America has itself been a major casualty of this change, damaged not only as propaganda abroad but as a genuine social imaginary for Americans themselves, as we see in the current rise of intolerance. In parallel to the errors of states, the Catholic church, once accustomed to living with a “tolerated margin of mess” (Babcock 1975), is today struggling mightily with the pathologies of an excessive zeal for control. Will not an international regime to protect the dignity of identities make itself as vulnerable to every ambitious local strongman as American power has done?

To be sure, in an age of viral communications, a Gainesville pastor can be heard by Indonesian activists without the intervention of governments or television cameras, and there had been protests at the US embassy in Jakarta long before Petraeus decided to speak. For good and ill, local actors have new kinds of agency open to them, both to initiate actions and to represent the actions of others. But I wonder whether the man in Florida would care so much about responses in Indonesia if these were not in turn provoking attention closer to home. If no cameras showed up to see them, would Qur’ans be burned in the end?

The hunger for recognition, the desire for protagonism, are a central human urging: they are in fact intimately bound up with that desire for dignity, the mix of attention and distance that the Latin languages call re/spect. But attention, as Richard Lanham argues, is the great scarce resource of a connected world. You have to do something big in the face of so much competition. Like many others, the man in Florida is treating respect as a limited good: he can obtain it by damaging someone else’s, and the bigger the target he can attack—1.5 billion Muslims is a start—the greater the hoped-for repercussions for himself. Having apparently little credit locally, he is escalating in order to rise into a more consequential sphere of action, and governments and media are inevitably giving him assistance despite themselves.

But the Muslims of Gainesville have declined to magnify his act into a conflict of civilizations, and their actions, geared to the immediate situation and the immediate community, seem apt to earn them the local respect which matters most to human happiness in the long run—that of one’s daily interlocutors, the network of people who know one over time. In their tempered response to a ridiculous gesture, they seem to be managing their own dignity quite effectively.