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Out of the Ashes | 2018-21

Collective Memory, Cultural Loss and Recovery

This three-year lecture series explores the theme of cultural loss and recovery across the centuries, from the destruction of the Library of Alexandria in antiquity to contemporary acts of cultural loss and destruction.
A panel of world-leading experts reflects on how societies deal with cultural trauma through reconstruction and commemoration, and on how the international community should respond to cultural loss.
The series is global in scope, pan-historical and multi-disciplinary in approach, and features a panel of international scholars and practitioners of the highest calibre.

Year 1 (2018–19) Collecting explored the urge to collect and the social meaning of the world’s great collections, including the meta-collections of the digital era. The programme opened with Dr Ismail Serageldin, Founding Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and also featured Dr Claire Breay, Keeper of Western Manuscripts at the British Library; Professor Lorna Hughes, Chair of Digital Humanities, University of Glasgow; Dr Shamil Jeppie, Director of the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project; and Dr Ed Parsons of Google Maps.

Year 2 (2019–20) Destroying considers a form of cultural atrocity now subject to international war crimes prosecution—the deliberate targeting of cultural heritage as a means to control social memory and to erase identities. The programme includes a special panel event on the Four Courts Blaze of 1922 organized in association with the Irish National Committee of the Blue Shield.  The basis for the Blue Shield is the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property and its additional first and second protocols, ratified by Ireland in 2018.

Year 3 (2020–1) Recovering draws together the themes of the series by exploring how we recover from cultural trauma—such as the tragic loss of the National Museum of Brazil in 2018—both literally through reconstruction of lost archives and artefacts, and also socially through the creation of sites of cultural memory, whether virtual or real. The lectures also consider the debate on restitution and contemporary campaigns for repatriation—notably the case of the ‘Migrated Archive’ consisting of thousands of files from former British colonial possessions whose existence was illegally kept secret in breach of the Public Records Act (UK). The three-year series will conclude on May 25th, 2021, with Richard Ovenden, Librarian of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, and author of Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge in an event marking the centenary of the destruction of the Custom House on 25 May 1921.

The Out of the Ashes lecture series is generously supported by Sean and Sarah Reynolds.

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