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Workshop ‘Heritage in Conflict’


In early March 2022, Russian forces bombarded the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv, the main memorial dedicated to the Holocaust in Ukraine at the site of the massacre of over 33,000 Ukrainian Jews in September 1941. The bombardment was one of the first attacks on the Ukrainian capital. Since then, Ukrainian places of cultural heritage are repeatedly under attack, leading to united efforts to protect them.

The counter-dynamic destruction and protection of cultural heritage is an inherent part of all kinds of conflict situations as well as their reconstruction in the aftermath. In this workshop, led by Dr Gertjan Plets and Dr Julie Deschepper, we will focus on the role of cultural heritage sites in conflict. Why are they of such central importance for attackers as well as defenders? What do they represent for whom? What are their legal protections? And, in what ways are underlying notions of memory entangled in present cultural heritage politics?

Based on contemporary literature and theories concerning heritage in conflict, we will investigate specific case studies of destruction, protection, and reconstruction of cultural heritage sites. Consequently, we will analyze overarching frameworks of the role of cultural heritage for collective identities and memories that participants are asked to apply to their own research.


09:30 – 10:30: Introduction and presentation

10:30 – 12:00: What is the meaning of heritage in conflict – Discussion of literature and core theories (general texts)

12:00 – 13:00: Lunchbreak

13:00 – 14:30: Groupwork: Three groups, one case study per group

Group 1): Destruction of cultural heritage sites

Group 2): Protection of cultural heritage sites

Group 3): Reconstruction of cultural heritage sites

14:45 – 16:30: Presentations

Every participant is expected to read both general texts and one case study text that we will individually assign to them. When signing up, each participant will be assigned to one of the three groups. During the groupwork session, the students will present their texts to each other and together create a presentation that includes the core arguments of their individual texts as well as their main points of discussion, incorporating the results from the plenary discussion of the general texts earlier. The seminar will end with a round-up session of the presentations, giving the participants an overview of all three aspects of heritage in conflict. The presentations will be made accessible to all participants for their further research.

Learning outcome:

After the end of this course, students will have

  • an overview of current debates on the role of cultural heritage sites in conflict situations, specifically debates around international policy frameworks, the role of nonstate actors and the relation of heritage and memory
  • specific knowledge on case studies of destruction, protection, and reconstruction of immoveable heritage sites
  • a clear sense of available possibilities for interdisciplinary research connections
  • placed their own research in an existing state of research
  • enhanced their methodological and theoretical knowledge as well as professional presentation skills

Preparatory readings:

Every participant is expected to read all general texts and one case study text that we will individually assigned to them.

General introduction texts:

  • Rosén, Frederik: Introduction: Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict: Preserving Art While Protecting Life. In: The Preservation of Art and Culture in Times of War, edited by Claire Finkelstein, Derek Gillman and Frederik Rosén, Oxford University Press 2022, pp. 1-22.
  • Plets, Gertjan: “Violins and trowels for Palmyra: Post-conflict heritage politics”, Anthropology Today, August 2017, Vol. 33 (4), pp. 18-22.

Case study 1: Destruction

  • Harmanşah, Ömür: “ISIS, Heritage, and the Spectacles of Destruction in the Global Media,” Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 78, No. 3, Special Issue: The Cultural Heritage Crisis in the Middle East (September 2015), pp. 170-177.
  • Thuesen, Ingolf: Who owns the past? Heritage in armed conflicts in the Middle East. Conflict & Culture. Understanding threats to culture. Orbis Publishing House Copenhagen 2018. Pp. 2-10.
  • Julie Deschepper. Weaponizing Culture. Uses of Heritage during the War in Ukraine. Working paper. 2023

Case study 2: Protection

  • Russo, Alessandra & Giusti, Serena: The securitisation of cultural heritage. In: International Journal of Cultural Policy: Special Issue: Cultural Diplomacy and International Cultural Relations (3), 10 November 2019, Vol.25 (7), pp.843-857.
  • Rosén, Frederik: NATO and Cultural Property: Embracing New Challenges in the Era of Identity Wars, NATO SPS report. 2019, CHAC.
  • Hausler, Kristin, and Pascal Bongard: The Role of Armed Non-State Actors in Safeguarding Cultural Heritage: Beyond Legal Obligations? In: Safeguarding Cultural Property and the 1954 Hague Convention: All Possible Steps, edited by Emma Cunliffe and Paul Fox, 2022, pp. 113–24.
  • Meskell, Lynn: A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace, Oxford University Press 2018, pp. 28-58.

Case study 3: Reconstruction

  • Dingwall Maccafferty, Joanne: UNESCO’s role in the reconstruction of cultural heritage sites. In: The role of UNESCO in the protection of cultural heritage during armed conflict in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, Joanne Dingwall Maccafferty (PhD thesis University of Copenhagen), 2022.
  • Gruia Badescu, ‘Post-War Reconstruction in Contested Cities: Comparing Urban Outcomes in Sarajevo and Beirut’. In Jonathan Rock-Rokem and Camilo Boano (eds.) (2017) Urban Geopolitics: Rethinking Planning in Contested Cities. London: Routledge, pp. 17-32.
  • Munawar, Nour A., and James Symonds: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Forced Migration & Community Engagement: The Case of Aleppo, Syria. In: International Journal of Heritage Studies: IJHS, vol. 28, no. 9, 2022, pp. 1017–35.
  • Barakat, S.: Necessary conditions for integrates approaches to the post-conflict recovery of cultural heritage in the Arab World. In: International Journal of Heritage Studies, vol. 27, no. 5, 2021, pp. 433-448.

Image (Wikimedia Commons): Polovtsian stone sculptures (babas) of IX-XIII centuries on Mount Kremenets in Izium city (Kharkiv region of Ukraine) after Russian shelling during the Battle of Izium (2022). One statue was completely destroyed by a projectile. Nearby monument to WWII heroes (on the background in the right) is partially destroyed.


Register (2/15 spaces left)

Bookings are closed for this course.