ICS Seminar Series

Next Seminar

Date: Thursday 8 November 2018
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: EA.G.18, Western Sydney University Parramatta South campus

Engineering Internationalism: UNESCO’s Victory in Nubia

Presenter: Professor Lynn Meskell (Stanford University)

Discussant: Dr Denis Byrne


A great deal has been written about UNESCO’s Nubian Campaign, from the heroism and humanism promoted by the agency’s own vast propaganda machine, to the competing narratives of national saviors whether the French or Americans, to Nubia as a theatre for the Cold War, right down to individual accounts by technocrats, bureaucrats and archaeologists. It would seem therefore that there is little new to say. Yet if one recenters UNESCO’s originary utopian promise, coupled with its technocractic counterpart international assistance, then add the challenge of a ‘one world’ archaeology focused on the greatest civilization of the ancient world, there might be a new slant on a future in ruins.

What crystallized in UNESCO’s mid-century mission in Egypt was a material attempt to overcome the fissures that were already appearing in their postwar dream of a global peace. Portrayed as a vast international co-operation with unrivalled grandeur and romance, saving Nubia potentially relegated the crisis of Suez to history, manufactured much-needed harmony in the Middle East, demonstrated once and for all that culture could contribute to a Kantian perpetual peace and, acquisitively, it would recapture the materialities of civilization for the West. Humanity as a whole could claim its inheritance from Egypt, thus reinforcing UNESCO’s lofty ideals of world citizenship: a common humanity in the past paired with a common responsibility for the future. Being poised for futurity requires a certain mastery of the past, as Utopians had long realized. Despite having no initial plan to do so, this meant that UNESCO had to embrace large-scale and transnational archaeology, bringing archaeological research into a monumental project with a predominantly conservation agenda. While only fleeting, and not entirely successful, this foray into field archaeology would mark both its apogee and demise at UNESCO and, in some respects, a wider intellectual landscape. Archaeology would soon become the handmaiden of heritage, subservient to the more calculable metrics of physical preservation and restoration, the global rise of conservation ethics and the marketable glamour of ancient monumentality. People too would be relegated by these grand designs, as thousands of Nubians were relocated with the rising waters. And this ever-increasing combination of infrastructural development, monumental preservation and the secondary status of people with their own living heritage would become the hallmark of the modern conservation industry.


Lynn Meskell is a professor in the Department of Anthropology, Stanford University. She is founding editor of the Journal of Social Archaeology and author of The Nature of Heritage: The New South Africa, Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt: Material Biographies of Past and Presentand Private Lives in New Kingdom Egypt. Published by in Oxford in 2018, her new book, A Future in Ruins: UNESCO. World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace brings a critical perspective to the story of UNESCO's efforts to save the world's heritage and, in doing so, forge an international community dedicated to peaceful co-existence and conservation. Her current research explores monumental regimes of research and preservation around World Heritage sites in India and how diverse actors and agencies address the needs of living communities. Given the sheer scale and complexity of archaeological heritage in India, no nation presents a more fraught and compelling array of challenges to preserving its past.

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Past 2018 Seminars

ICS Seminar Series - Phil Cohen and Susan Luckman

Date: Thursday 1 November ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Thinking in Common Panel

Date: Thursday 25 October ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Sajal Roy

Date: Thursday 18 October ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Professor Karen Malone

Date: Thursday 11 October ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Juan Francisco Salazar

Date: Thursday 4 October ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - HDR Panel

Date: Thursday 20 September ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Shanthi Robertson

Date: Thursday 13 September ...Read more.

ICS Serminar Series - Manfred Steger

Date: Thursday 6 September ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Chinatown Panel

Date: Thursday 30 August ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - David Tait

Date: Thursday 23 August ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Claudia Magallanes-Blanco

Date: Thursday 16 August ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Vincent Ogu

Date: Thursday 9 August ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Lisa Slater

Date: Thursday 2 August ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Thinking in Common panel

Date: Thursday 7 June ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Christopher Lamb

Date: Thursday 31 May ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Mary Hawkins and Helena Onnudottir

Date: Thursday 24 May ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Tim Winter

Date: Thursday 17 May ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Jasbeer Musthafa Mamalipurath

Date: Thursday 10 May ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Australian Cultural Fields panel

Date: Thursday 3 May, ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Malini Sur

Date: Thursday 26 April ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Andrew McWilliam

Date: Thursday 19 April ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Amanda Third

Date: Thursday 12 April ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Devleena Ghosh and Professor Linda Connor

Date: Thursday 22 March ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Jian Lin and Karen Sy de Jesus

Date: Thursday 15 March ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Kiu-wai Chu

Date: Thursday 8 March ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Anna Yeatman

Date: Thursday 1 March ...Read more.

ICS Seminar Series - Paul Irish

Date: Thursday 22 February ...Read more.

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