Monday 8 December 2014

To Publish or not to Publish

On 25 October 2014, Roberta Mazza organised a one day seminar in Manchester on issues of provenance which aimed to bring together experts in different fields and professions to discuss whether scholars should publish ancient objects, the provenance of which is unknown or dubious. She sets out her aims in her Introduction  (video)

Speakers included Neil Brodie (University of Glasgow) on: The role of academics. There is a summary in a video:
 "one of my own particular interests is the role of academics in the antiquities trade, how they are involved in the antiquities trade, and whether they facilitate the antiquities trade as a criminal endeavour. I don't think academics are aware of the legislation and I also don't think academics are properly aware of the consequences of their actions, I think that they think that what they are doing is in the public interest and they don't realise that there is a balance to be achieved between the harm their work causes and the benefits of their work, there's a balance there and they don't really consider that balance in terms of public interest. It is the experts in these particular classes of object which we are talking about, Egyptian papyri, cuneiform tablets, the experts who are involved with these objects, they should be talking about the issues as well as trying to raise awareness within their own disciplinary groups, so in many ways it is up to the academics themselves to start this discussion and carry it through".
Stuart Campbell (University of Manchester): 'Mesopotamian objects in a conflicted world' (no video or paper supplied as yet).

Roberta Mazza (University of Manchester) spoke on Who owns the past? Private and public papyrus collections and the text can be seen here.
Chris Naunton (Egypt Exploration Society, London) talked on: 'Association policies: the case of the Egypt Exploration Society', which - though interesting - does not really address the titular issue as much as explain why the EES opposes part of the trade in antiquities.

Likewise I am not sure why Vernon Rapley (V and A Museum, National Museum Security Group, London) was invited, his paper '‘Working together.’ Law enforcement and cultural sector, intelligence sharing and cooperation' does not really address the issue in hand - and when asked at the end of the video, declined to make a judgement.

Then there was James Ede (Charles Ede Ltd, London), speaking on 'Dealers: trade, traffic and the consequences of demonisation'. Again another one who thought the seminar was about the trade in general. He did however make a reference to the issue in the title:
Private collectors should be encouraged to publish and show their collections. Yet the howls of rage when the late George Ortiz showed his collection at the Royal Academy mean that such an exhibition is unlikely to happen again. Do you want openness or not? If you do, you will have to accept that the objects themselves do not carry any guilt. They are still worthy of study no matter if they appeared on the market illicitly. Forcing this material underground is no answer and is bad for scholarship.
See my discussion of the other points Ede made here and here. So at one extreme we have Dr Brodie  pointing out that many academics are unaware of the issues and law (an opinion with which I personally agree), while at the other end from a narrower (object centred) perspective the dealer urges them to ignore them (partnership with the despoilers - like the PAS).*

It is a shame that it seems that the promised round table discussion between David Trobisch (Director of the Green Collection, Washington DC), Marcel Marée (The British Museum), Nikolaos Gonis (UCL), Campbell Price (Manchester Museum), Nicole Vitellone (University of Liverpool), William Webber (Art Loss Register) and Donna Yates (University of Glasgow) was not transcribed or filmed. So we will never know what, if anything, was agreed.

*Mr Ede is on the TVC. 


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