Over the past century we have steadily shifted more resources, both intellectual and monetary, to preserving historic properties and protecting cultural heritage. More recently we have added to this preservation focus increasing concerns about who is entitled to define and lay claim to material culture from the past. Here in the United States these debates play out in the context of historic properties, the National Historic Preservation Act, and a variety of legislative acts that protect the cultural heritage of Native Americans. In the international realm these debates focus on the identification and protection of world heritage sites and the illicit movement of antiquities.
Regardless of the separate and at times even conflicting legal regimes that govern the preservation of domestic historic properties and international cultural heritage, they share some of the same historic and cultural roots and give rise to similar issues and questions. Why do we put so much stock in the preservation of our material culture and built environments, even at the expense of other social and economic goals? How do we define what is worth saving and whose voices are privileged in that process? How do we reconcile the communal goals at the heart of preservation with concerns about protecting private property and sovereignty?
This one-day conference will explore these issues through a cross-disciplinary discussion between leaders in the fields of archeology, anthropology, history, architecture, and law.