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Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage (Discussion Seminar)

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The May 2022 Tanner Lectures are given by Cécile Fabre, Senior Research Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, Oxford, and Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford. 

The overall title of these Tanner Lectures is: "Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage."

When Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed by fire on April 15, 2019, the world (it seemed) watched in horror. On Twitter, Facebook, in newspapers and on TV cables ranging as far afield from Paris as South Africa, China and Chile, people expressed their sorrow at the partial destruction of the church, particularly the collapse of the spire, and anguish at what very nearly happened - the complete destruction of a jewel of Gothic architecture whose value somehow transcends time and space.  When President Trump threatened to bomb Iran's cultural sites in the closing days of 2019, in defiance of the laws of war, he elicited outrage, not just on behalf of Iranians but on behalf of the world at large: the ancient city of Persepolis, for example, is widely regarded as one the world's most significant archeological sites. 

The thought that there are landmarks - some human-made, others natural, others still at the intersection of the human and the natural world - which have universal value is a familiar one. It also raises some deep concerns, not least regarding conflicting interpretations of what it means for a landmark to have outstanding universal value, and, relatedly, regarding the risks of undue cultural appropriation, particularly on the part of former colonial or quasi-colonial powers towards peoples and territories which they once held in their grip. 

Nevertheless, the aim of these lectures is to offer a philosophical account and defence of World Heritage's central ideal, to wit, that there is such a thing as humankind's common heritage, and that this heritage makes stringent moral demands on us.

This discussion seminar focuses on both Lecture 1 ("Valuing Humankind Heritage" - May 10) and Lecture 2 ("Justice and Humankind’s Heritage" - May 11). 

Comments will be given by Lynn Meskell, Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Leif Wenar, Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities at Stanford.