Since 2013, Germany has taken in over 700,000 Syrian refugees due to the Syrian Civil War. These refugees are dispersed among Germany’s population of over 82 million people. Although this is still less than 1 percent of Germany’s population, Germany prioritized preserving Syrian culture, while facilitating a smooth assimilation process.
Syria has a rich culture and history that has been endangered due to the Syrian Civil War. Germany wants to make sure that Syrian artifacts and collections are preserved, as many sites have already been destroyed due to ISIS treatment of this particular places. ISIS views Syria’s historical sites as a threat to the Islamic religion – and it sells ancient artifacts to produce revenue. Recently, the city of Aleppo was leveled by ISIS forces and the ancient Roman theatre has become the chosen site for ISIS beheadings.
In order to keep record of Syria’s historical sites, especially those that are at risk, the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin and the German Archeological Institute reached an agreement with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to begin a program that would preserve Syria’s threatened artifacts.
The project aims to weave together present day viewpoints with digital records of Syria, including an online data base which already stores 200,000 photos and documents. Another goal is to build 3D models of the UNESCO sites that were destroyed, so that one day Syria can rebuild these ancient treasures.
As public historians, the Syrian Archive Project raises several questions:
When accepting refugees from war-torn countries how can we preserve their history?
If we are holding these artifacts, who is the true owner? When should the artifacts be repatriated?
How, as public historians, do we handle this situation? What is our role?
The Museum für IslamischeKunst (Museum of Islamic Art) belongs to Staatliche MuseenzuBerlin–Stiftung PreußischerKulturbesitz(State Museums of Berlin–Prussian Cultural Heritage Foudation), http://www.smb.museum/en/museums-institutions/museum-fuer-islamische-kunst/home.html.
THE PUBLIC HISTORIAN, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 107–128 (November 2018). ISSN: 0272-3433, electronic ISSN 1533-8576. © 2018 by The Regents of the University of California and the National Council on Public History. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page, http://www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p1⁄4reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2018.40.4.107.
Nicole Johnson is a sophomore studying Public History at St. Mary’s University of San Antonio, Texas.