Yazidi shrine of Mame Reshan in Shingal, Iraq, after its destruction by Islamic State, credit: Levi Clancy. Cultural heritage such as sacred sites is crucial for the identity and mental health of displaced peoples.

Yazidi shrine of Mame Reshan in Shingal, Iraq, after its destruction by Islamic State, credit:  Levi Clancy.  Cultural heritage such as sacred sites is crucial for the identity and mental health of displaced peoples. 

A new series of short films involving a Swansea University expert will help aid workers understand how protecting cultural heritage during conflict can be a vital humanitarian issue, as it strengthens people facing difficult situations.  

Professor Nigel Pollard is an expert on the destruction and protection of cultural heritage in conflict, including historic buildings, archaeological sites and museums.

His research on the bombing of the ruins of Pompeii by Allied forces during the Second World War featured on a Channel 5 programme with historian Dan Snow.  He has also advised the military on best practice in protecting cultural heritage. 

The new films are aimed at aid workers and organisations supporting people during humanitarian crises.  The message underlying the films is that preserving heritage in these situations can be a crucial element of humanitarian work. 

It is not a question of putting buildings and precious objects above people, but a way of strengthening people and communities who are under enormous stress. 

Examples used in the films include the Yazidi people of Iraq and the Rohingya people in Burma.  Cultural heritage is crucial in maintaining the identity and mental health of these and other displaced peoples.

The films were produced by Blue Shield, a worldwide organisation that aims to protect cultural heritage in emergency situations. It is often described as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross.

Each film in the series is presented by a different person connected to Blue Shield from around the world, showing the global impact of this vital issue.  Professor Pollard presents one of the films, with others presented by Blue Shield members from Guatemala and Senegal.

The production of the films was also made possible by Swansea University, thanks to a grant from the University's AHRC Impact Acceleration Account.

Professor Nigel Pollard said:

“Cultural heritage is fundamentally about people, not just buildings and historic sites.  Protecting it can strengthen groups who are under stress, help to reduce sectarian conflict and reconstruct communities that have been through war and displacement.

The Blue Shield films explain why cultural heritage protection is important to people affected by crisis and explore why and how it might be included in humanitarian response.

Aid organisations have a very carefully defined role.  Our message is that in many crisis situations, protecting cultural heritage is not in a separate category of activity, but can form a vital part in that humanitarian role.”   

Professor Pollard’s book, Bombing Pompeii: World Heritage and Military Necessity, formed the basis of the Channel 5 documentary 'Pompeii: the Discovery with Dan Snow', and of the National Geographic/Windfall Films documentary 'Bombing Pompeii'.

His research on Pompeii includes a practical real-life case study of good and bad practice when armed forces encounter a museum, highlighting issues that remain important today for military personnel.

His expertise means he is frequently asked to advise and help train contemporary military personnel.  These include the UK military Cultural Property Protection Unit, the descendants of the Second World War 'Monuments Men', featured in the George Clooney film of that name.  He has also advised military peacekeepers being trained at the UN Training School Ireland.

Professor Pollard’s current research is a Leverhulme Trust funded project on 'Allied Soldiers as Cultural Tourists in Wartime Italy'.  Using archival memoirs, diaries, letters and photographs, he is examining the responses of military personnel to heritage sites such as Pompeii, Florence and Rome, and how those were shaped by factors like class, education, gender and nationality. 

School of Culture and Communication at Swansea University- find out more

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