Thursday, 22 July 2010

Balancing the Bibliographies: Private Collector "Thought" on Looting

Re: the recent coiney discussion of Hugh Jarvis: The "Looting Question" Bibliography: Web and Literary Resources on the Archaeological Politics of Private Collecting, Commercial Treasure Hunting, Looting, and "Professional" Archaeology.

There has been an online reading list by (lithics specialist?) Hugh Jarvis about "archaeological politics" including looting available on the internet for quite a while now (a link to it has been included in my sidebar link section for as long as this blog has had one). This bibliography is extensive, but not comprehensive; it is an overview, and as the author himself admits "the main focus is on North America". It also covers a wider range of topics, the ethics of "commercial - i.e., developer funded - archaeology" included (the coverage of this is weak seen from even just the British perspective and it seems to me that this topic really deserves a bibliography of its own anyway). I also wonder what the author thinks is the difference between "looting" and "commercial treasure hunting"? Jarvis' compilation also has an internal stratigraphy, the original resource forms its skeleton, now perhaps a little anachronistic, with periodic, but understandably (given the author's current employment) not always comprehensive updates. Nevertheless unquestionably as a preliminary reading list, as a source of places to look for information - many of them online - a useful compilation well worth browsing.

Anyhow, this resource was recently discovered by lawyer Kimberly Alderman who enthusiastically put a link to it on her blog too. There was a swift and sharp reaction to that from the coineys (the usual culprits: Sayles and Tompa). Wayne Sayles ripped into it in the comments and then put a whole post on his blog about it ("I'm always looking for cultural property related resources and materials" he says - not "always" enough it appears to have found it earlier). Sayles opines:
In my view, this site and its bibliography are a disgrace to academic research. It is merely a list of publications by and for archaeologists and does not even attempt to address the vast published scope of private and public collector thought on the subject. Just take a look at the list of contributors and you can see in a heartbeat how “comprehensive” it is. Better yet, do a search for “ancient coin” in the bibliography and see how much dialogue you get. My search yielded zero.
("site and its bibliography"?). Well, hey, we do not find the names "Sayles", "Welsh", "Hooker" or "Tompa" mentioned there. Should they be? Once again the coineys are marginalised and protesting about it. As for "ancient coins", I thought the ACCG position was that the vast amount of coins on the market today result from the splitting up of "old collections" and that they do not come from looting, so why are they complaining that a search does not reveal them as the products of looting?

The "disgrace to academic research", "fails the test of academic credibility" (or its variant, the "lack of qualifications" personal attack) is a familiar trope of the antiquity collectors, in fact addressed to anyone who writes things about collecting they'd rather not see in black and white on a page.

On his blog, Sayles moans that in this overview there is
very little to do here with the philosophical or legal questions regarding the transfer of cultural property between individuals or states, or with the distinction between art theft and archaeological site looting. No coverage whatever of the legitimate market and issues facing law abiding collectors nor of the raging debate over application of nationalist laws in an international market.[...] None of the well known collector blogs are cited, nor are any of the moderate archaeology blogs like that of Derek Fincham.
[I do not know how Derek Fincham would feel being lumped with the "archaeologists", a term most frequently used with pejorative meaning by Sayles]. As for how "well known" the collectors blogs are, I think Mr Sayles rather underestimates the degree to which the collectors have been marginalising themselves from current debate by the tone they adopt in their public writings.

There is no sign, Sayles says of the:
classic collector perspectives written by Cuno, Merryman, Fitz Gibbon, De Montebello, Alsop, Boardman and others
and "no collector group or museum codes of ethics are mentioned". Sayles announces:
To balance this bibliography with a list of publications and articles reflecting the collector/museum viewpoint I will create a supplemental bibliography over the next few days and post it on the ACCG web site.
That should be worth seeing, for balance, let it include some UK metal detecting forums and "publications".

The observant reader will note an interesting tendency here. Sayles persists in subsuming private collecting (which includes the no-questions-asked approach of the majority of the current trade) in the same milieu with institutional collecting as though they are the same thing. On the contrary, there are very few private collectors I would suggest that actually and consciously apply any of the several codes of practice and/or ethics of museums to their collecting (David Knell is one exception here). On the contrary, there is very little discussion of these codes of ethics on collectors forums (such as Tim Haines Yahoo "AncientArtifacts" group, or Dave Welsh's Unidroit-L, or indeed on the pages of the ACCG webpage run by Sayles), which gives a fair measure of the interest there is in these matters in this milieu. Indeed, I imagine that any attempt to hold private collectors to these standards (concerning not only acquisition but also documentation, but also matters such as the treatment of human remains - see here, here and here) would not be met at all favourably in such milieus.

The ranters of the private collecting world are all too willing to cite, for example, Cuno's defence of the universal collection [ Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage] without noting that Cuno's vision applies to institutional collections which he clearly sees as separate from ephemeral private collections. They are indeed quite seperate phenomena, and as the museum world becomes more conscious of the ethical and political issues which private collectors consistently insist on ignoring, are becoming increasingly separated.

I wonder to what degree the museums would accept the equation which private collectors like Sayles are currently making? From their point of view - and disregarding for the moment the matter of collectors' donations (not always free of course of problems and controversies)- is the largely indiscriminate accumulation in undocumented ephemeral personal hoards of archaeological artefacts of unknown provenance to any degree fulfilling the same mission as their professional museum curation of cultural property? Virtually everything about the current form of no-questions-asked private collecting of archaeological artefacts is the opposite of the standards set by modern museum practice: from the acquisition policies, documentation, proper storage and conservation facilities to the issue of accessibility.

Sayles wants to see more in Jarvis' bibliography about "the philosophical or legal questions regarding the transfer of cultural property between individuals or states", and of "the raging debate over application of nationalist laws in an international market" ("there is a huge corpus of material informing the anti-nationalist view, one would think that an odd reference or two might have cropped up somewhere amidst this assemblage"). I think the former is already covered in Jarvis' bibliography, and it remains to see what Sayles actually comes up with (apart from his own Wikipedia-generated "paper") on the latter (especialy with regard transfer of items between private "individuals", i.e., the collectors ACCG claims to represent). Also it will be interesting to see what academic bibliography Sayles supplies to cover the topic of "the legitimate market" and "issues facing law abiding collectors". Sayles hints that there is a "vast published scope" of "private collector thought" on the subject, let us see the published evidence of this reflection and thought, and see whether it comes up to the academic standards he demands from Dr Jarvis.

I had to laugh when I saw Peter Tompa's comments on Kimberly Alderman's blog: "A number of the sources cited in the bibliography are only available on the web", see here. I think, looking at where Mr Jarvis works (as a "cylibrarian"), providing a largely online resource was precisely the intent.

For other responses to the coiney reaction to Kimberly Alderman's post see Gill on SAFE, (and while there take a look at the SAFE reading lists). In my sidebar there is a series of links to other sites providing further informatuion, and down at the bottom you will find a selection of the blogs and other online resources presenting the collectors' views, but I am not holding my breath waiting for acknowledgement of the coineys that this blog has made the effort to show its readers that there is another side to the argument.

Anyway, in order to achieve some 'balance', we await with bated breath Wayne Sayle's contribution to the academic debate on the no-questions-asked private collecting of unprovenanced archaeological artefacts. Watch this space. :>)



David Gill said...

I am surprised that Sayles does not discuss the gaps in the "Readings" from the Cultural Property Research Institute - an organisation for which Tompa sits on the board. Jarvis is criticised for leaving out the work of certain individuals ... who do not appear in the CPRI list (at least today).
I suspect many academic reading lists are now offline, posted on institutional VLEs.
Best wishes

Paul Barford said...

I really do not understand the virulence with which this bibliography (an overview) was attacked by the coineys.

Quite apart from the fact that Sayles seems to be under the impression that if you give students a reading list which is more than one A4 sheet (and that's stretching it), they are actually going to plough through it.

Today's undergraduate tends to get selections from a few set texts rather than a list of '100- books-you-must-read-by-next-Frisday. I wonder what the reading list for Art History 101 at the University of Wisconsin looked like in 1982?

David Gill said...

The "balanced" bibliography has now been issued. Follow the link from here.
Best wishes

Paul Barford said...

I could not get your link to work, so just in case it's not my problem alone, here's the link in full:

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