Friday, 14 December 2012

The Two Models of "History Belongs to us All"


It seems to me that there are two models of the notion of a common historical heritage. The one is the "History belongs to all of us, so don't destroy others' chances to enjoy it fully" mode. I'd put myself here, the whole of SAFE (Saving Antiquities For Everyone) and the White Hat Guys of the archaeoblogosphere (Nigel Swift and Heritage Action, Professor Gill, Damien Huffer, HAPPAH), and on the legal side lawyer Rick St Hilaire. This recognizes that the archaeological record is a threatened fragile and finite resource which we should expend efforts to preserve as far as is possible from avoidable erosion and deterioration. Once it's gone it's gone, and it is upon us - more than any other generation before us (and any after us will be too late) - that the responsibility of helping preserve it lies. That most jobsworth archaeologists gladly climb upon the "common heritage" bandwaggon without accepting the full significance of that responsibility, leaving it up to others as much as possible, is saddening.

Then there is the other group, the Black Hat Guys. These are the professors of the "History belongs to all of us, not just the museums" model of the likes of metal detectorists of the Candice Jarman/ Jeb/ Shingle-for-Lawns/ Steve Taylor and-others-of-that-ilk. In this group also go the "collectors' rights to dugups" mob across the seas, so the ACCG and its Yahoo-list affiliates. This argues that a "common heritage" meaning it belongs to us all gives every individual the right to dig it up, hoik it out and cart it off and sell it and do what-he-jolly-well-likes-wiv-it, cos its legal - innit". These people think archaeological evidence is in some (unexplained) way best served by being in their own scattered personal ephemeral and generally poorly-documented collections. In some (equally unexplained) manner this is held to be of social benefit too. By treating the artefacts themselves as art with "rights" it is also argued to be in the interests of the artefacts themselves to be hoiked out ansd scattered like this.

Translated into rhinoceroses that's the "rhinos belong to us all, so we should support by every means efforts to stop poaching" and the "rhinos belong to us all, so I can have a matching rhino horn letter-opener and keyfob set" models. Which side are you on?

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