Thursday, January 24, 2013

A rational voice in a sea of hyperbole?

On the Trafficking Cullture website, one reads that, "Trafficking Culture aims to produce an evidence-based picture of the contemporary global trade in looted cultural objects."  I instinctively thought of the myriad sensationalized media articles and unfounded blog posts that outrageously portray private collectors in league with elements of organized crime, and worse yet terrorists.  However, the next sentence did slow me down some.  "This research programme is based at the University of Glasgow and is funded by the European Research Council."  My personal experience with archaeologists from this part of the world has been encouraging and so I tried to keep an open mind.  I had been directed to the site through a link to a paper written by Jessica Dietzler, the recipient of a University of Glasgow scholarship for the study of Illicit Antiquities and Global Criminal Markets.  I was quite surprised to find that Ms. Dietzler is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee in Anthropology and Art History.  Being a UW Art Historian myself, I mused that this could not be all bad.

The paper, titled "On ‘Organized Crime’ in the illicit antiquities trade: moving beyond the definitional debate",  is actually critical of the stereotypes that have predominated thus far and concludes that "... researchers should focus not on the question of whether organized criminals—particularly in a traditionally conceived, mafia-type stereotypical sense—are involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but instead on the structure and progression of antiquities trafficking itself that embody both organized and criminal dynamics."  This seems to me a worthy and rational mode of investigation.  My own personal view, and that espoused by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, has always been that everyone in the cultural property arena must follow the laws that govern them.  An honest assessment of criminal activity that leads to enforcement of law and prosecution of true violations of law, rather than general castigation of innocent citizens, can only be viewed as a positive event by all concerned.

I look forward to reading more about the progress of Ms. Dietzler in her research and sincerely hope that the outcome leads to a more rational debate in years to come.

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