Forum Archaeologiae - Zeitschrift für klassische Archäologie 55 / VI / 2010


In the past decades, armed conflicts worldwide have involved deliberate or accidental damage to cultural heritage. Although it is often used to sharpen existing cultural divides, cultural heritage can also play a significant role in helping populations recover from such events. ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Presentation and Restoration of Cultural Property), an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the conservation of cultural heritage worldwide, is introducing a new course to help improve the response of those working to recover cultural heritage in conflict areas.

Due to clashes of ideologies and cultures, armed conflicts can lead to intolerance and intentional destruction of cultural heritage. Existing protection mechanisms tend to fail because governments are weakened and the core values that hold communities together are progressively eroded. There can also be a severe delay to operations not included under the umbrella of humanitarian aid because access to certain areas is restricted by military, security or law enforcement agencies. On the ground, a complex web of networks and initiatives is put into place and few cultural heritage professionals are adequately equipped to navigate within it. It is essential for everyone involved to understand how and when to intervene to protect endangered cultural heritage and work alongside ongoing humanitarian efforts.

Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict
To address these issues, ICCROM is launching a new international course with the financial support of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (MiBAC). ICCROM is specifically targeting those who are actively involved in the protection of cultural heritage within a variety of institutions (libraries, museums, archives, sites, departments of antiquities or archaeology, religious and community centres), and also professionals from humanitarian and cultural aid organizations, as well as military, civilian, and civil defense personnel.
The course itself will comprise of:

  • - Interactive classroom lectures on topics ranging from international legal frameworks, military operations, to relief networks;
  • - Group activities focusing on team building, negotiation, risk management, and conflict resolution skills;
  • - Practical first aid treatment sessions on a variety of cultural materials (paper, wood, metals, mortars, textiles, etc,);
  • - Simulations of disaster situations to develop emergency decision making abilities, communication, and leadership skills.

ICCROM's approach to learning
In all its training activities, ICCROM uses a problem-based approach, encouraging participants to take an active role in their own learning experience. To develop the First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict course, ICCROM is following these essential steps:
Course planning: ICCROM first sought the cooperation and input from a small number of organizations (UNESCO, Blue Shield, ICOM, WATCH (World Association for the Protection of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict), ISCR (Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro, Italy), and the Nationaal Archief, Netherlands). Through dynamic group work and brainstorming, the planning committee delineated the overall course objectives, its target audience, and the issues to be addressed.
Selection of participants: ICCROM's approach to learning challenges the traditional teacher-student relationship, whereby one imparts knowledge to another. Instead, ICCROM recognizes that every course participant has his or her own experience to share, which is just as important as that of the lecturer. As a result, the course content can only be finalized once the participants have been selected.
Course design: After the selection process is completed, a small group of professionals from the specific fields relevant to the course issues and objectives will meet to define the day-by-day course schedule and the module content. This core teaching team will help delineate the overall didactic framework.
Implementation: The course will be held in Rome in from 17 September to 29 October 2010. ICCROM hopes to have a good cross-section of participants that can represent the interests of the various actors present on the ground in times of conflict, as well as the various professions and cultural backgrounds.

In all its activities, ICCROM aims to conserve culture while promoting diversity. It is hoped that the first International Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict will open new channels of discussion between fields that may not be accustomed to having a dialogue with each other. By attracting professionals outside of the cultural heritage sector, it is hoped the training will have a ripple effect on national and international authorities, as well as commanding officers. Eventually, perhaps cultural heritage recovery will be officially recognized as intrinsic to humanitarian relief.

© Aparna Tandon, Simon Lambert

This article should be cited like this: A. Tandon, S. Lambert, ICCROM's International Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict, Forum Archaeologiae 55/VI/2010 (