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caesar novus

Give thanks for the imperialist ‘tomb raiders’

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Spectator article http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/give-thanks-for-the-imperialist-tomb-raiders/ talks about the intentional destruction of archeology by local inhabitants not being new with Syria. Some of the controversial western "looting" of archeo treasures saved them from destructive processes ongoing at the time, comparable to the smashing up of Rome treasures for construction material in medieval times.


Now a threat to museum holdings is the recent "spineless, guilt-ridden, perma–apologetic western culture" that pushes artifacts back to the countries of origin even if they haven't requested them. Those countries may not be physically or even spiritually equipped to be monopoly caretakers of things historically related to them. As seen in Syria, they may have a hostility to their ancient cultures. If feeling an urge for restitution, why don't museums donate items from their own local history to foreign museums instead? Spread the risk, and maximize the exposure of the unfamiliar to the public (= education).

Edited by caesar novus

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There is a logic to what you say, but anti-historic civilisation sentiment is not universal, and many institutions are as patriotic as anyone elses. It is part of human behaviour that valued items often have a 'proper place', and that it is deemed right to return them in spite of all other logic. It is also true that the logic of risk management means that people of another country must travel to view items of their ancient cultures, which in their place you might find frustrating or unacceptable. Further, whilst the situation might be stable now, isn't your argument going to place eggs in one basket by default? No museum is 100% safe.


Similar arguments have been made regarding WW2 aircraft. Do you risk them in flight, or stuff them away safely in a museum? My own feeling is that aeroplanes were meant to fly and people should not be denied an opportunity to experience them in their proper context. Aircraft in museums are like stuffed birds. Dead. Static. Almost as if some inherent spirit has been painted out. The noise, smell, and sensations of movement might be mechanistic and in a way artificial, but there is something vital about it, something analogous to life. There are also the emotional attachments we make to older machines, especially those with historic significance. So I say where possible, fly them. Sooner or later the realities of costs and maintenance will mean that such aircraft can no longer be flown at all. A sad day that will be. But museums? It wouldn't be the first time that an aviation museum with priceless exhibits had burned down or been flattened in bad weather.

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