Blog

Perspectives on the Protection of Cultural Heritage

On November 1, a group of WMF staff members attended a conference hosted by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. The conference, titled “Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage,” took place at Fordham University School of Law.

Throughout the event, participants shared their perspectives on the topic of protecting cultural heritage during times of armed conflict. Representing diverse professional fields, the panelists included professors, attorneys, historians, journalists, law enforcement agents, and museum curators.

The first panel of the conference focused on the systematic theft and destruction of property that occurred during World War II and the efforts of various players—most notably the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives division of the Allied forces, now known as the Monuments Men—to protect cultural heritage in the face of such threats. The second panel examined US policy and practice regarding looting and the restitution of stolen goods in recent conflicts, as well as the threats to cultural heritage that Syria, a 2014 Watch site, is currently facing.

The second half of the conference highlighted the ways in which both government and private institutions are currently working to prevent the trade of looted objects and to continue the restitution of goods plundered during WWII. The discussion also investigated the ways in which organizations can use media to raise awareness of and reduce cultural heritage loss by making the topic accessible to a wider audience.

Acclaimed authors Lynn H. Nicholas (The Rape of Europa) and Robert Edsel (Monuments Men) discussed the research that went into their respective works and the significance of their subject matter in terms of history and the present day. Edsel concluded the conference expressing his own wish that the soon-to-be released film adaptation of his book will help spread awareness of the importance of preserving cultural heritage, and will encourage the continuing restitution of objects that went missing during WWII.