Monday 15 February 2010

"Anti-collector Propaganda" in Scholarly Journal?

Over on his Victimised Numismaddicts Support Group Blog, and still without having read the article itself, book-shy culture-property observing lawyer Tompa of Ehernberg and Bailey PLLC of Washington now criticises the editors of the Journal of Field Archaeology for having published Nathan Elkins' recent article "Treasure Hunting 1001 in American Classrooms".

He suggests that the article which he has not read would have been "more appropriate, if at all, for blogs and the like". In allowing discussion of the ethical issues surrounding the coin dealers' Ancient Coins for Education (sic) campaign, The "Journal of [Field] Archaeology has pushed an anti-collector agenda under the 'ethics' banner". In Tompa's opinion this therefore means "this scholarly journal is being used for anti-collector propoganda (sic) ". According to the lobbyist " it thus appears that the Journal of Field Archaeology has departed from its original scholarly mission in favor of becoming just another propaganda tool in the culture property wars" (Is the Journal of Field Archaeology Now Just Another Propoganda Tool in the Cultural Property Wars?).[he has since corrected the spelling mistake]

"Wars" Mr Tompa? Who has declared a "war"? Between which sides, collectors and preservationists? I would say this is a unilateral declaration. As far as I know, the preservationists are fighting the illicit movement of artefacts from the ground to the no-questions-asked trade (not collectors as such, who they count on to help fight this evil trade). I guess there would then be a strong motive for some lobbyists trying to persuade collectors that it is preservationists who are their enemy rather than the unscrupulous no-questions-asked dealers that put money into the pockets of law-breakers and get antiquity collecting such a bad reputation. Which side is "Ancient Coins for Education" on?

But then who is guilty of propaganda? Tompa talks of the ACE campaign as "a non-profit group that uses ancient coins to teach kids" (which in the article he has not read, Elkins "attacks") and characterises it as: "the efforts of members of public to encourage our nation's youth to learn more about ancient Greece and Rome" (which in the article he has not read, Elkins "denigrates") . Is this really what ACE is about?

Do we really want our kids being "taught" by representatives of an interest group that advises its supporters to avoid discussions on ethics "like the plague"? That is an attitude more suitable for some kind of sect than a scholarly enterprise. Sects too set out to "educate" their subjects, make new converts, and cannot tolerate discussions which question their fundamental tenets.

Moreover Tompa asks his coin-collecting readership, "is Elkins' subject matter really the stuff of scholarship today?" Obviously the journal's editors thought so. Tompa plaintively bleats "should a journal that purports to foster scholarship" be discussing the ethical issues behind the ACE campaign? Yes, yes we all should if the way this is done is causing destruction of the archaeological record. Yes, yes we all should should if the use of these coins in American classrooms as part of a campaign by dealers and associated collectors is contributing to the damage of the archaeological record in other countries. Yes we all should when attempts are made to allow the "education" of a whole sector of society about antiquity to be highjacked by an interest group to promote its own narrow and dubious aims. The latter should be very much a matter of concern for the archaeological commiunity, and all those that care about the preservation of the archaeological record.

Anyone who actually reads Elkins' article (and, unlike Tompa, I have) will see that it gives a balanced view of the ethical issues involved in the ACE's use in the classroom of coins derived from the bulk lots currently on the US market. It is not "anti-collecting propaganda", but does call into question a number of issues connected with the nature of the market on which US collecting is currently dependent and which urgently need addressing by all of us, which is why awareness-raising articles like this should be appearing in all the media, scholarly as well as non-specialist.

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