Unmasked! The Consequences of Emotional Attachment to Things from the Holy Land
Morag M. Kersel, DePaul University
The acquisition of things engenders both a complex set of emotions and a series of obligations for individuals and institutions. The display of a group of Neolithic (7600-6000 B.C.E.) masks at the Israel Museum marked the first time these 12 objects were displayed together, and the first time that the majority of them were publicly accessible (10 of 12 are privately owned). Reverence for the masks by government employees, museum professionals, collectors, farmers, archaeologists, curators, scientists, looters, and museum visitors arouse, conjure, crush, and augment sentiments for prehistoric ancestors and ties to contested lands. Similarly, the display of a commonplace limestone burial box from the 1st century CE bearing the Aramaic inscription “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus", the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) elicited emotional responses from academics, museum visitors, governments, and the owner of the artifact. Through the exhibition of this ossuary, the ROM took on simultaneous roles: custodian of a sacred relic, shaper of public interpretation, and as a fiduciary institution. This lecture will examine the differing strands of emotional attachment to objects and the rival obligations created by the desire to “own”, to display, and to interpret the material remains of the past. I will address the politics of public display, the role of the museum, and the consequences of an attachment to things.
Morag Kersel is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at DePaul University.
Professor Kersel is an archaeologist with a doctorate from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and a master of Historic Preservation from the University of Georgia. Her research interests include the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age of the eastern Mediterranean and Levant, cultural heritage protection, the built environment, object biographies, museums, and archaeological tourism. Her work combines archaeological, archival and oral history research in order to understand the efficacy of cultural heritage law in protecting archaeological landscapes from looting.
Currently she is co-director of the Galilee Prehistory Project and the Follow the Pots Project - tracing the movement of Early Bronze Age pots from the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan.
Morag Kersel's talk is co-sponsored by the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Department of Anthropology, and The Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies. Thank you!
This event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the talk.
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