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Society & Culture

Whose heritage do we honor when building—and destroying—monuments?

(Getty Images photo)

What’s the function of a monument? Who should be honored with one—and who gets to decide?

The event is sponsored by the James Conlon Fund and the Department of Religion & Classics and begins at 5 p.m. in the Hawkins-Carlson Room in Rush Rhees Library.

On Wednesday, September 27, Richard Leventhal, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, will explore these questions in the second annual James Conlon Memorial Lecture. In his talk, entitled “What is Cultural Heritage and Whose Heritage is It? Ours? Theirs? Everyone’s?”, Leventhal will consider the destruction of monuments, from the Taliban’s destruction of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas, to the removal of Confederate monuments in the contemporary United States. Framing these events as struggles over cultural identity and power, Leventhal asks whether people in the 21st century can reimagine the debate about identity and power in order to preserve cultural heritage.

The James Conlon Memorial Lecture is named in memory of James Dellcort Conlon ’94, who graduated with honors in religious studies. Following a year as a Fulbright Fellow in Jordan, the Binghamton, New York, native earned a master’s degree in Near Eastern languages and cultures from Indiana University and a postgraduate certificate in the preservation of archaeological sites and historic buildings from Columbia University. Conlon later joined Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology, where he served as director of the Visual Media Center. He participated in projects throughout Africa and the Near East, taught courses on historical preservation, and explored new ways to recover and preserve the relationship between heritage sites and their local communities. He died after a brief illness in July 2009.

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