Saving Culture in Crisis Today
In countries like war-ravaged Ukraine and Iraq and others shattered by natural disaster, the awful cost in human life and personal and public property extends to an immeasurable toll on cultural sites – museums, archives, libraries, religious locations, theaters, and other places of social significance.
The Smithsonian Institution is at the forefront of U.S. and international efforts to save them.
Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s distinguished scholar and ambassador-at-large and founder of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, discusses the institution’s vital efforts to preserve cultural heritage under threat in our country and around the world. It deployed staff and resources to Haiti, Nepal, and most recently Morocco in the wake of earthquakes and catastrophic floods, worked to recover and protect historical sites in Iraq attacked by ISIS, and has sought to safeguard collections that embody Ukrainian history and identity amid the war with Russia.
Kurin also examines methods of monitoring cultural war crimes via satellite, the process of tracking looted art, and collaborations with the U.S. Army’s specially trained “Monuments Men and Women.”
Over his 44-year career, Kurin also has served as the Smithsonian’s acting provost and for more than a decade as under secretary, overseeing the institution’s national museums, scientific research centers, and cultural programs. He served for two decades as director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Holder of a Ph.D. in anthropology specializing in South Asia from the University of Chicago, he has written six books including Saving Haiti’s Heritage: Cultural Recovery after the Earthquake, The Smithsonian’s History of America 101 Objects, and Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem.