First-year students in NYU Washington DC’s Cultural Foundations class had the opportunity to join Professor Alexander Nagel for a special opening of an exhibition of photographs documenting heritage preservation in Iraq at the Italian Embassy last month.
Dr. Carlo Lippolis, of the University of Turin in Italy and President of Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino (CRAST), visiting the NYUDC Cultural Foundations class.
To commemorate the opening, Dr. Carlo Lippolis, of the University of Turin in Italy and President of Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino (CRAST), presented Heritage in Danger: The Centro Scavi Torino and the Preservation of Iraqi Cultural Heritage, which highlights the work of the Center over the last ten years. Following the presentation, Dr. Lippolis visited the Cultural Foundations class for an additional discussion and question and answer session.
The following are reflections on the event and on Dr. Lippoli’s visit from NYUDC students.
Dr. Lippolis first introduced the Iraqi Italian collaboration efforts in rebuilding the displays of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. Preserving collections from ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian and Assyrian and Islamic civilizations, the museum holds objects from Uruk, a city the class just learnt about, while discussing cuneiform tablets and reading the fascinating stories from *The Epic of Gilgamesh* which was written over 3,000 years ago. Unfortunately, in April 2003, many precious artifacts were looted from the museum, and is a window to the past of Mesopotamia and human history. Despite the difficult political situation in Iraq, efforts to reopen the National Museum began in 2006. The Iraqi Italian teams cleaned and repaired artifacts, redesigned the galleries, created a timeline, and reinstalled the museum lighting. The museum was officially reopened to the public in February 2015. When Dr. Lippolis saw children lined up and eager to visit the museum, how they absorbed knowledge from the displays, and smiling at each other, he felt all of his team’s effort worth it.
Dr. Lippolis also introduced the audience to the reopening of the Iraqi-Italian Institutes in Baghdad earlier this year, in April 2016. Originally founded in 1969, the work of the Institute was halted during the Second Gulf War. He explained the mission of the Iraqi-Italian Institutes as to provide full cooperation on all issues raised by the Iraqi side, but especially to contribute to the safeguarding of the cultural heritage. After a retrieval of a historical building close to the Qislah, the old Turkish military quarters, the Institutes reopened with the purpose of contributing to the progressively wide-ranging safeguarding of the Iraqi cultural heritage and new archaeological and scientific research. He also spoke about his own excavations in Iraq. While there were Italian excavations at a site of named Seleucia earlier, since 2012 an Italian archaeological expedition began working in south-eastern Iraq on the site of Tulul al Baqarat. Altogether, it was great to gain so much insight into the work of European archaeologists in Iraq.
Jin Xiangru, Freshmen, NYU DC, Course “Cultural Foundations 1”
On the next afternoon, Dr. Lippolis joined us in the classroom at NYU DC. Here, we had the opportunity to learn more about the Italian and Iraqi collaborations, and we were able to ask questions about the practices of his work in Iraq. In his lecture on Wednesday evening, Dr. Lippolis had already introduced the efforts and work that went into the reopening of the Iraq Museum, and how the 2003 looting and the Iraq War halted archaeological research in Iraq. Dr. Lippolis continued to discuss how the damage and looting of sites has a lasting impact on the history of people. Some looted artifacts were returned to the museum in Baghdad by locals soon after the events happened in Baghdad. However, the museum curators were not able to verify all thefts, because archival documentation was destroyed along with some of the artifacts being looted. The 2003 looting had not only an impact on the artifacts that were damaged, but also on decades of research conducted. Dr. Lippolis introduced us to the history of the Iraq Museum and shared fascinating letters written by Gertrude Bell, the Iraq Museum founder. During her time, few women had access to education: against all odds, she got her education, and for the rest of her life she did not stop pursuing archaeology. After her death, the Iraq Museum changed locations, but they held on to her spirit for archaeology, and a sign with her name can be found by the Museum until this day. I was personally captivated by the diplomatic efforts and politics behind the reopening of the Iraq Museum in 2015. We learned about the work that went into planning of the layout, and the challenges in conserving and moving the sometimes very fragile artifacts.
My classmates and I were interested to learn more about the politics of archaeology. We wanted to know how embassies, diplomats, countries, and archaeologists co-operate with each other, about the work in recovering lost and looted pieces. Organizations such as Interpol monitor activities involved in the sale of looted objects yet the rise of the internet (and especially the dark net, as one student pointed out), presents new challenges and opportunities. This looting is a shame because history is being destroyed by greed. This practice should be outlawed. I can see where this behavior comes from, for since mankind started conquering other cultures, their first instinct was always to rob and destroy a culture. Culture unlike people changes and needs to be recorded before it is gone. The Iraqi locals that returned the stolen artifact set a great example of humanity and I became curious to learn more about Iraq.
My mother is from Vietnam and I was born in the Czech Republic. I spent most of my life outside of Vietnam, and I only had a few chances to interact with Vietnamese culture. Growing up I did not have too much of an interest in the country my parents grew up in, but it is something I regret now. I believe that preserving culture and history is important, so future generations will not have similar regrets as I did. The meeting with Dr. Lippolis provided me with important insights into understanding my own culture, because sympathy is the bridge to peace.
Thao Huong Tran, New York University, Washington, DC, Course “Cultural Foundations 1”