Fitch Colloquium: Preservation and War: Panel 2

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Panel 2: At War
Julián Esteban-Chapapría, Associate Professor, Universitat Politècnica de València
Zaki Aslan, Director of ICCROM-ATHAR Regional Conservation Centre, UAE
Laura Kurgan, Associate Professor of Architecture, Columbia GSAPP
Zainab Bahrani, Edith Porada Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Moderated by William Raynolds, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation, Columbia GSAPP

What are the moral limits to war? The destruction of heritage has, at least since the Enlightenment, been considered a threshold beyond which military action becomes unjust, even criminal. Centuries before modern preservation laws, it was military jurists like Emmerich de Vattel who helped establish the notion that governments at war had a legal duty to protect heritage—including that of their conquered enemies. The regulation of modern warfare in many ways preceded and shaped that of modern preservation.

Military codes of conduct, such as the pioneering 1863 US Lieber Code, became the basis and inspiration for national and international preservation laws. The experience of World War II, and the now famous work of the Monuments Men, was a powerful catalyst for the creation of preservation institutions during peacetime, from the National Trust of Historic Preservation to UNESCO. Their aim was not so much to abolish war, but rather to fight more just wars in the future, to correct the moral transgressions of the past.

Preservation, in other words, is not conceptually outside of war, but very much embedded in it, where it can more effectively monitor, report on, influence and limit bellicose action. Military thinking is second hand to preservation: we organize as one would an army, around notions of readiness for battle, defensibility of assets, planned campaigns, managing trauma, and reconstruction.

To what degree, we may ask, is preservation thinkable outside of militarization, and its prewar—war—postwar continuum? What is the range of acceptable preservation actions and non-actions in the face of today’s wars, when spectacles are made of the dynamiting of monuments, and the killing of preservationists? The 2016 Fitch Colloquium brings together some of the world’s leading experts in the spirit of dialogue and common pursuit of answers to these urgent questions.

About James Marston Fitch
Architect, preservationist, and founder of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University (1964) where he was a member of the faculty from 1954 to 1977. Fitch taught and lectured widely and was a true internationalist—studying and writing in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. Jane Jacobs considered Fitch “the principal character in making the preservation of historic buildings practical and feasible and popular.” The James Marston Fitch Colloquium became an annual event at Columbia GSAPP in 2000.


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