Sunday, 23 February 2014

Arthur Houghton Suggests Coming to Poland

Apparently because I posted a text on investing in rare coins, Arthur Houghton has decided that here in Europe we might benefit from his contribution to the debate. He has offered to come to Warsaw in late September to give "a scholarly talk" on: "Who Owns the Past: Morality, Law and the Public Interest".

Whatever his intent, this guy just comes over here as an enormous gas-bag. The first slimy-snide Houghton response to Tompa discussing my reference to investing in coins included a remark that I might need educating about buying coins, feigning inside knowledge of the Warsaw numismatic market. He alleges that I probably do not know that "ancient coins are being sold over the counter even in his backyard":
I would be happy to educate him further -- even in his natural habitat. Could i suggest a good coin dealer who sells ancient coins in Warsaw? 
Tompa makes an immature attempt at humour, but I take Mr H. up on his offer. I suggest he is not actually able to recommend a good coin dealer who sells ancient coins in Warsaw. Mr Houghton has to backtrack, he's found out:
There is a vibrant Polish numismatic society [he cannot bring himself to name it, but knows is] full of people who like ancient stuff and I am sure that I can hook into them and find out pretty quickly who they deal with and who I should see. 
So actually, at the time of writing, as one might have guessed from his previous record, he'd no real knowledge of any good coin dealer who sells ancient coins in Warsaw. He's going to have to ask a random coin collector in one of the national numismatic societies. He then, however, changed the topic and suggests giving "a scholarly talk", to make Barford "huff and puff" (his words) "but since he knows nothing about numismatics, perhaps he would need a little prepping. May be a lot". Wow (see below). 
"What about their national [A]cademy of [S]ciences as a venue? I could ask Mr. B. to set it up. But I would wager that he could not. No matter. I can take care of it myself. Should I plan a nice September visit?"
Well, since it is not at all a problem for me to arrange it at the Academy of Sciences, there is no need for Mr H. to bother "taking care of it" himself. I take him up on it and ask for a title. Then it seems he's less confident about his ability to make anyone "huff and puff".  After giving the not-too-unexpected title, he reveals he's not really sure about his ability to cope with an audience from the real world outside collecting circles. He instructs me:
"it must be a condition that all questions will be submitted in written form, translated, and that you get one only for yourself".
What? That seems a very Hollywoodish way to conduct a "scholarly" discussion. Over here academic discussions (particularly in the Academy) have no "scripts", the questions after a normal academic session refer to points presented by the scholar speaking, or asking for clarification. I do not see any serious academic coming along to a talk on such a subject where they cannot ask questions or comment on what they've just heard. The very idea! What happens if someone asks a question not in the script, does Mr Houghton pick up his briefcase and walk out? Oh, I'm going to make sure this one is on video. He has other conditions:  
Before I agree, I would like to know who sponsors such a talk -- or better, who will be issuing a formal invitation and who would introduce. I would also want to know everything I need to know about the Academy of Sciences, including those archaeologists and museum members to whom I would be speaking. I assume that I do not need to learn Polish beforehand, and that members attending will not object to my speaking in English.
In the circles within which I move, many of them in fact have better English than many of the people I write about on this blog. Once again, Mr Houghton earlier blithely suggested doing his thing at the Academy of Sciences, then realises he knows nothing about our Academy of Sciences. In fact, I submit that he's really not thought this through at all. I would say talking about:
"Who Owns the Past: Morality, Law and the Public Interest" 
in the United States of America is an entirely different proposition to talking about it in a country with the laws (and the specific experiences) of Poland. Here's where the whole idea of written questions submitted blind collapses, I am sure many people coming would have no idea what an American collector is likely to say here - it is all totally foreign to the European mentality, where hoiking it all out, ripping it off and scattering it in foreign private collections is not exactly the current idea of "in the public interest". I rather think it is Mr Houghton who'd be educated by the experience. After his talk I'll take him along to the National Museum to see the manuscript which we got back from the USA last month and I saw on Saturday. He might be interested in the way it is displayed.And while he's here, he can show us where he sees the "lot of cultural property in Polish museums that does not belong there [...] and should [...] be send (sic) back" ('Polish Museums as seen in Washington Fantasyland', Monday, 27 January 2014). I am sure our museum staff will be interested to hear (and then correct) his views. Anyway, I'll take this up with the Academy later on this week. 

Vignette: Against US poison gas

UPDATE 28.02.14
It seems the Ever-so Distinguished Arthur Houghton III thought again about the wisdom of his dismissive and taunting approach and perhaps realised that eastern European heritage professionals might not be the walkover he imagined. So he instead made some fart jokes and retreated.


conflictantiquities said...

I really would have enjoyed watching a video of that.

Paul Barford said...

Well, I really find it rather amusing that the American thinks he can come here and impose conditions like he's in America's backyard.

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