by Fahimeh Rahravan
‘Why did the Serbs and Croats shell each other’s historical sites when they had so little ammunition and these were not military targets?’ I routinely ask my museum studies graduate students this question when I lecture. ‘To break their spirit,’ is always the instantaneous answer. Elaine Gurian
Our hearts are mourning for the lives lost in the recent tragic murders at the Bardo Museum, Tunisia. After all, museums are expected to be safe places for exchanging cultural passions, not targets for terror. In the past weeks, other World Heritage sites have been also targets of attacks in such areas as Hatra in Iraq.
While some have called for using force to protect these sites and others have cautioned museums to up their security measures, at University of San Francisco, a group of museum studies graduate students and faculty have been meeting to think about to use non-violent means to lend our support to museums and other cultural sites that are especially vulnerable.
Relevantly, ICCROM, the Smithsonian Institution, the Netherlands National Commission of UNESCO, and eleven other institutions including the Netherlands Ministries of Culture and Education have jointly organized an international course called First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis. Recently Smithsonian Magazine also advocated that it is imperative to protect the world’s cultural treasures and heritage.
If only we could move ahead of time. However, there are still seemingly-small but immensely effective things we can do. People have always been the best protectors of cultural heritage. Here are the actions we are advocating:
Mourn but calmly: Have a moment of silence for the innocent visitors killed in Bardo but make your spirit unbreakable. Frankly, we need action-taking as much as we need to remember and honor those innocent victims.
Condemn but proactively: Do one thing for a museum or historical site of your choice. Donate your time, effort, or money to a cultural heritage institution and make it noticeable, so people get to know why you care so much. This will have an educational message for the public.
Talk about it, put it on your T-shirt, pin, sticker, etc. in different languages, and show your support.
At USF we will all be sporting buttons that say “I support Cultural Heritage” in English, French and Arabic, in honor of the staff of the Bardo Museum and people of Tunisia.
Advocate Preventive Preservation: however, whenever, and as much as you are able to.
Educate a non-museum-professional about one museum issue. Make a child aware of how important our cultural heritage is. Make it your private mission. Do it consistently whenever an opportunity presents itself.
PEC (Preserve, Educate, Create) more often than before. When funds are tight for restoration of those unique masterpieces, be a good representative of the mentality, culture, philosophy, and ideology that created them.
Most importantly: make sure you get rid of hatred. In your thoughts. In your actions. In your language. That’s where these human catastrophes all come from.
Think of more things you can do and add them to this list.
 Gurian, Elaine Heumann. “What is the Object of this Exercise? A Meandering Exploration of the Many Meanings of Objects in Museums.” Daedalus (1999): 163-183.
We thank Miriam Blumenfeld and Nell Herbert for their design work and Katie Booth, Stephanie Brown, Kayla Bruemmer, Erin Golightly, Lydia Marouf, Kathleen Schlier, Marjorie Schwarzer & Melissa Zabel for leading our ongoing efforts which will include a display in Thacher Library that further calls attention to the destruction of cultural property around the world.
For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.