In the next post in our series Dr Nigel Pollard explains his current research into conflict and heritage….
By training I’m a Roman historian and archaeologist, with field experience in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy and Britain, and I’ve published, among other things, on the Roman army as a tool of imperial policing, the Roman army as an institution and community, and relationships between soldiers and civilians in the Roman East.
However my current research mostly relates to the relationship between conflict and heritage (primarily ancient sites and monuments, museum collections and portable antiquities) from the Second World War to the present day. My principal project at the moment is a monograph focusing on a study of the Allied bombing of the ancient site of Pompeii in August-September 1943 in the context of the evolution and growing pains of Anglo-American monuments protection policy and practice, including the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-Commission (the MFAA, the ‘Monuments Men’ of the recent George Clooney film). I’ve been working on contemporary documents from the UK, Italy and the US to examine the reasons for the bombing, including the balance between perceived military necessity and protection of cultural heritage, and the reasons (technological, operational and structural) why the MFAA, which existed already at the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily, was ineffective in preventing damage to one of the best known archaeological sites in the world. I’m also examining the reforms to the organisation that took place as a result of its deficiencies during the Allied liberation of Naples, and their longer-term effectiveness through the remainder of the war in Italy and beyond.
However, this research has also taken me into the fields of military tourism in the Second World War, civilian uses of heritage sites in wartime (as shelters and refuges, for example), evacuation, looting, recovery and repatriation of antiquities, the impact of wartime experience on the development of post-war British archaeology, and the role of archaeology in post-war urban reconstruction in Britain and beyond. For example, Allied military personnel were deliberately encouraged to visit cultural sites such as Pompeii, the Roman Forum and Florence as part of a conscious educational mission that sought to explain to soldiers from western democracies why they were fighting. To those ends, organisations like the British Army Education Service and the MFAA produced an unprecedented range of informational leaflets and guidebooks for military visitors, which were available alongside locally produced materials translated into English for sale to military visitors. I’m examining the way in which such sites and their historical contexts were presented to their readers. The vast majority of British military personnel who encountered archaeological heritage during their wartime service were non-specialists, with a greater or lesser knowledge of the Classical past derived from formal education and personal interest. In some senses, the Second World War served as a classless version of the earlier aristocratic Grand Tour. Most of these individuals were encountering the material remains of that past for the first time. Many recorded their visits to cultural sites in memoirs, diaries and oral records available in UK collections, so I’m drawing on those materials to understand their varying responses to those sites across a range of educational backgrounds.
Another interesting intersection of wartime experience, archaeology, memory and identity lay in the involvement of some British service personnel with archaeological heritage as a formal part of their wartime duties overseas, particularly in the Mediterranean and North Africa. The wartime activities of such archaeological specialists helped shape the development of British archaeology in Britain itself and in the countries in which they served. For example, Mortimer Wheeler, already a leading figure in British archaeology before the war, was, as a serving officer in the Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy, one of the key figures in the creation of the MFAA. After the war, he played a key role in the development and public image of archaeology as the first media archaeologist in Britain. John Ward-Perkins was another important figure in the MFAA in Africa and Italy, and as post-war director of the British School at Rome, was a central figure in the evolution of British archaeological research in Italy and in post-war relationships between British and Italian archaeologists. John Bradford was a British Army intelligence officer (ultimately seconded to the MFAA) whose wartime experience as an interpreter of aerial photographs played a crucial role in the application of aerial photography to archaeology in post-war Italy.
My research also has contemporary relevance. While a vast body of experience relating to the protection of cultural heritage was developed during the Second World War, much of it reviewed and debated in the war’s immediate aftermath, most of the lessons learned were promptly forgotten, to be re-learned the hard way in later conflicts from Bosnia to Syria. As a member of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield, an international organisation established to promote the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, I work with military personnel and heritage professionals to educate and influence policy, drawing on my knowledge of past experience.