Tuesday 9 December 2014

"To Publish or Not to Publish?"

Urgggh."Extensive Recent Looting Revealed" reads the text by ASOR. Underneath we get this:
Robert Deutsch · Tel Aviv University | אוניברסיטת תל-אביב As such crimes against humanity/science are frequently committed in conflict areas, where even the human lives have no value, and therefore there is no way to prevent plunder, we have to rescue as much as we can by publishing the epigraphic material which will end in private and public collections. Ignoring artifacts out of context, contributes to the damages made by the looters. The ASOR policy has to challenge this sad situation and not to prevent scholars to fulfil their moral duty.
Nobody has a moral duty to be part of criminal activity, we have a moral choice. In any case what's with all this primacy of "epigraphic", overriding all other considerations? My reply:
I have this fragment of paper with writing on it I found in an old drawer, goodness knows where it comes from. It says
"[...] of the Fre[...]
]een Charlotte was
at Chatham an [
part in seve[
]ch nav[
The paper looks old, very old. It could be significant, no? Would you like to see it published, even though out of context and why? The context is not worthless, neither is every 'old' object (even if epigraphic) of any value without its context.
In fact the text is from Wikipedia and it's about HMS Queen Charlotte, not the historical person, and Chatham is a dockyard, not a royal residence. You do need to know the context even of addressed sources like this. Separation of this fragment from the others (one of several dozen forming the material of a mouse nest) and its context of deposition (a child's desk in a shed) prevents putting it in any kind of frame within which the writing the object bears can be interpreted in any sensible way. What on earth is the point of "publishing" something in a manner which means nobody will ever be able to make any sense of it at all? In any enquiry about the past, the scholar's "moral duty" is to verify the source and associations of the material they are discussing and interpreting and not use data of illicit origins, no matter how tempting they may appear.

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