TOPIC Engineering Internationalism: UNESCO’s Victory in Nubia
TIME AND VENUE: Wednesday 19 September, 12-1pm |
VENUE: Sir Roland Wilson Building, Conference Room, 1.02
SPEAKER: Lynn Meskell is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University, and Honorary Professor in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
“A great deal has been written about UNESCO’s Nubian Campaign, from the heroism and humanism promoted by the agency’s own vast propaganda machine, to the competing narratives of national saviors whether the French or Americans, to Nubia as a theatre for the Cold War, right down to individual accounts by technocrats, bureaucrats and archaeologists. It would seem therefore that there is little new to say. Yet if one recenters UNESCO’s originary utopian promise, coupled with its technocractic counterpart international assistance, then add the challenge of a ‘one world’ archaeology focused on the greatest civilization of the ancient world, there might be a new slant on a future in ruins.
What crystallized in UNESCO’s midcentury mission in Egypt was a material attempt to overcome the fissures that were already appearing in their postwar dream of a global peace. Portrayed as a vast international co-operation with unrivaled grandeur and romance, saving Nubia potentially relegated the crisis of Suez to history, manufactured much-needed harmony in the Middle East, demonstrated once and for all that culture could contribute to a Kantian perpetual peace and, acquisitively, it would recapture the materialities of civilization for the West. Humanity as a whole could claim its inheritance from Egypt, thus reinforcing UNESCO’s lofty ideals of world citizenship: a common humanity in the past paired with a common responsibility for the future. Being poised for futurity requires a certain mastery of the past, as Utopians had long realized. Despite having no initial plan to do so, this meant that UNESCO had to embrace large-scale and transnational archaeology, bringing archaeological research into a monumental project with a predominantly conservation agenda.
While only fleeting, and not entirely successful, this foray into field archaeology would mark both its apogee and demise at UNESCO and, in some respects, a wider intellectual landscape. Archaeology would soon become the handmaiden of heritage, subservient to the more calculable metrics of physical preservation and restoration, the global rise of conservation ethics and the marketable glamour of ancient monumentality. People too would be relegated by these grand designs, as thousands of Nubians were relocated with the rising waters. And this ever-increasing combination of infrastructural development, monumental preservation and the secondary status of people with their own living heritage would become the hallmark of the modern conservation industry.”
This presentation is supported by The Centre for Archaeological Research.