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Broken Bones, Broken Stones: Iconoclasm in World History

Monday, 9 March 2020, 6:30 – 8pm

Broken Bones, Broken Stones: Iconoclasm in World History

This public lecture by Professor Philip Dwyer (University of Newcastle) is organised by the Trinity Long Room Hub as part of the Out of the Ashes Lecture Series.

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 brought the question of iconoclasm and cultural heritage into stark relief for the first time in many years. The Taliban were portrayed as “barbarians” and “vandals”, but their act of destruction is part of a very long history of violence committed by people either bent on overthrowing the existing order – revolution – or erasing the past – a form of cultural cleansing. Sometimes the destruction even involves the physical remains of former kings, saints and political opponents.

While we have a good understanding of what iconoclasm is, we do not necessarily understand the iconoclasts themselves. Why do people feel compelled to destroy images that offend their religious or political sensibilities? Can any meaningful comparisons be drawn between, say, sixteenth-century Protestants and contemporary Islamicists destroying what they consider to be ‘false idols’? What connects the image-breakers across time? What do we lose by ‘purifying’ the past?

Drawing on a wide variety of examples that range from ancient Egypt through to contemporary debates about the removal of modern political and military icons, Philip Dwyer will present iconoclasm as both a religious and a political act that cuts across time and historical boundaries. Iconoclasm as an act of forgetting can tell us a great deal about how we prefer to remember the past, and what kind of societies we want to build in the future. As a form of violence, one that has existed throughout recorded history, it is central to understanding humanity’s cultural legacy.

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About the Speaker
Philip Dwyer is Professor of History and founding Director of the Centre for the History of Violence at the University of Newcastle, Australia.  He is the author of an acclaimed three-part biography of Napoleon and general editor of the four-volume Cambridge World History of Violence, due to be published in 2020.

About the Series
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 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.



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

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Centre
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Neill Lecture Theatre
Research Theme: Digital Humanities, Making Ireland, Manuscript, Book and Print Culture
Event Type: Alumni, Arts and Culture, Lectures and Seminars, Library, Public
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free (but registration is essential)
Contact Name: Trinity Long Room Hub
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