Azra Akšamija, Associate Professor, MIT, presents FITCH COLLOQUIUM: PRESERVATION AND WAR at Columbia University GSAPP.
What are the moral limits to war? The destruction of heritage has, at least since the Enlightenment, been considered a threshold beyond which military action becomes unjust, even criminal. Centuries before modern preservation laws, it was military jurists like Emmerich de Vattel who helped establish the notion that governments at war had a legal duty to protect heritage—including that of their conquered enemies. The regulation of modern warfare in many ways preceded and shaped that of modern preservation.
Military codes of conduct, such as the pioneering 1863 US Lieber Code, became the basis and inspiration for national and international preservation laws. The experience of World War II, and the now famous work of the Monuments Men, was a powerful catalyst for the creation of preservation institutions during peacetime, from the National Trust of Historic Preservation to UNESCO. Their aim was not so much to abolish war, but rather to fight more just wars in the future, to correct the moral transgressions of the past.
Preservation, in other words, is not conceptually outside of war, but very much embedded in it, where it can more effectively monitor, report on, influence and limit bellicose action. Military thinking is second hand to preservation: we organize as one would an army, around notions of readiness for battle, defensibility of assets, planned campaigns, managing trauma, and reconstruction.
To what degree, we may ask, is preservation thinkable outside of militarization, and its prewar—war—postwar continuum? What is the range of acceptable preservation actions and non-actions in the face of today’s wars, when spectacles are made of the dynamiting of monuments, and the killing of preservationists? The 2016 Fitch Colloquium brings together some of the world’s leading experts in the spirit of dialogue and common pursuit of answers to these urgent questions.
Memory Matrix presented by Azra Akšamija
We live in a time when technology can be used to document an erasure as it takes place and to restore much faster than ever before. Hardly any other historic site has generated more intense public debate about these two issues than Palmyra. The impetus to defy Palmyra’s destruction notwithstanding, the questions of whether, when, and how to restore it remain controversial. These questions provide the conceptual basis for the Memory Matrix—a public space intervention referencing Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph—that counters the destruction of monuments with the creation of new ephemeral monuments that engage new fabrication technologies and transcultural collaborations. The Memory Matrix endorses the use of technology to foster solidarity and educate those who have been stripped of their home, culture, history, and identity. Preservation can also positively encourage human interdependence in the face of global problems that are affecting communities across borders, today and in the future.