Exploring cultural identity loss

Eli's ambition

Prior to beginning my MSc at Glasgow I completed the Postgraduate Certificate program in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime through the University of Glasgow and this course significantly motivated my coming to Glasgow to study the Master program in Criminology and Criminal Justice, which I am able to attend thanks to being awarded the Saltire Scholarship through Scotland’s Saltire Foundation.

Through my research I have noticed an apparent gap in collective trauma theories. While collective trauma, inter-generational trauma, historical trauma and cultural trauma, to name a few, all have aspects that deal with the effects of a population or culture experiencing a loss of cultural heritage, there is no collective trauma theory that discusses the traumas of a loss of cultural heritage. Yet this plays such a significant role in the motivations and effects of these traumas.

Native American populations demonstrate just how valuable their heritage, both tangible and intangible, is to their identities and feeling connected to their ancestors and histories. Examples from Holocaust survivors, refugees from Turkish occupied Cyprus, values of idols in India being looted or damaged, and countless others demonstrate the considerable intrinsic value these antiquities and objects that represent our various cultural identities hold. There has been debate on whether there is a human right to cultural heritage, and I hope that identifying traumas that are attributed to the loss of heritage will help contribute to identifying this as a human right that should be protected and encouraged.

To determine this, I plan to analyze the documentation of past events that provide examples of a loss of cultural heritage, from indigenous populations to the looting and destruction during WWII or the more recent losses experienced by Bosnia and Herzegovina. These can all contribute to identifying whether there are attributes that are consistent in all scenarios. Once these histories are examined, these same attributes could be applied to modern populations’ experiences of these losses, from examples such as the current conflicts in Syria, Sudan or even in general thefts of cultural artifacts. The experiences of those who have suffered these losses could exemplify the idea of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” and can go a long way to identifying a collective trauma theory of cultural heritage loss.

I also hope to go beyond this, and not limiting my goals to solely focus on the harm caused by loss, but look forward to how the returns, care, and protection of these objects and intangible values can restore hope in communities. If there is a trauma experienced at the loss of these objects and values, it also means that cultures and populations can find hope and a further sense of community and identity through possessing what has been dispossessed. I am continually motivated by thought of being able to help solidify and further the recognition of the pain the loss of these objects causes, and further recognize that hope can be experienced through the return and protection of these objects, that are so tied into our identities and represent our culture in truly powerful ways.

Eli's progress