Blog: Person, Place, and Thing

Heidi Klise

Cultural Heritage Preservation

Cultural heritage and heritage preservation are significant components of information studies. A beautiful line from the movie The Monuments Men does a good job of explaining why it is important to preserve heritage. George Clooney’s character Frank Stokes declared, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.” (1) The protection of heritage has been tasked to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO divides heritage into two categories, tangible (physical items, monuments, geography, etc.) and intangible (oral stories, traditions, events, etc.). My research paper will delve into examples of heritage preservation by refugees in new communities. For this assignment I want to highlight non-refugee related examples of tangible heritage: the Hawaiian mountain Mauna Kea, the journal of a WWII prisoner of war, and Swiss archaeologist Paul Collart.

Person: Paul Collart 

This coming Wednesday at NYU there is a talk called, “Heritage in Peril: Digital Approaches to Preservation.” I will be unable to attend due to class but I wish I could as it is a topic of particular interest. The keynote talk will be presented by a professor from the University of Lausanne (Unil), which, according the the event invite, “is home to the Collart Collection, the world’s most comprehensive archaeological archive of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.” (2) The temple was destroyed in 2015 by ISIS. The collection is named in honor of Paul Collart, a Swiss architect and professor at Unil, who UNESCO entrusted with the inventory of the cultural property of Syria and Lebanon. (3) Collart also led the excavation of the Baal Shamin temple in the 1950s, which was classified as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1980. It’s a mark of the 50s that a Swiss man and not a Syrian was entrusted with the cultural property of two Middle Eastern countries. However, the photographs that he took during the excavation are even more important now that the real temple has been destroyed. In a video from Khan Academy, Dr. Salaam al-Kuntar and Dr. Steven Zucker discuss Palmyra. Dr. al-Kuntar says, “[A]nd then we start asking ourselves, what is the meaning of a world heritage site if that site cannot be protected?” (4) This brings up an interesting point about heritage sites, they are protected from development but what resources does UNESCO have when sites are at risk? And if militaries are entrusted to protect sites, that leads to a larger conversation that is somewhat addressed in The Monuments Men, is a life worth sacrificing for art or architecture?

The image of Collart is from (5)

Place: Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is the peak of a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. From base to top, it is the highest mountain in the world at 32,696 feet, of which 4,205 rise above sea level. (6) The summit is sacred to native Hawaiians and is believed to be a home to the gods. There has been a long-standing struggle between builders and locals since the first telescope was built by the University of Hawaii in 1970. (7) This past summer, protests stopped construction of the proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which would be the 14th built on the summit. 

Since mid-July, native Hawaiians, transplants, celebrities such as Jason Momoa, and others have set up camp and blocked the access road to the telescope area. Organized largely on social media, the “we are Mauna Kea” protests have even taken place in cities such as Las Vegas and New York City. I read an instagram post from actor, local, surfer, and business owner Kala Alexander that said something to the effect of, ‘we’re not anti-science or against learning more about the stars, what we’re against is the further desecration of our sacred Mauna Kea.’ What’s interesting is that the University of Hawaii has largely been at the forefront of observatory construction. Information about a lawsuit by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs explained, “the state and the University of Hawaiʻi have continuously neglected their legal duties to adequately manage the mountain. Instead, they have prioritized astronomical development at the expense of properly caring for Mauna Kea’s natural and cultural resources.” There have been rumors of another equally appeasing TMT location in the Canary Islands of Spain, but not much has been reported. 

(image from Kala Alexander’s instagram page)

What is also interesting, is that two of the other volcanoes and sacred locations on the Big Island, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, lie in Volcanoes National Park and are under protection due to their dedication as UNESCO world heritage sites. Why was Mauna Kea not included? Remember the ‘S’ in UNESCO stands for ‘scientific.’ Mauna Kea Observatory is listed in the category of astronomical heritage, “The smooth shape of the isolated mountain, along with its high altitude, produces astronomical image quality that is among the best of any location on Earth.” (8) So, who decides for what purpose something should be preserved? In this case it was the UN, but in other cases it could be information professionals and archivists. I am reminded of Shwartz and Cook’s article about archives and power, “records are also about power,” they wrote, “They are about imposing control and order on transactions, events, people, and societies[…]” (9) The discrepancy between the Hawaiian volcanoes’ protection is an example of the potential bias within preservation, and how the bias can be directed by the controlling body that funds preservation. The “We are Mauna Kea” movement 

Thing: Secret Journal

            During research for my undergraduate thesis about my grandpa’s WWII story, I found a unique and rare book: a collection of journal entries and sketches by a man who was in the same prison camp as my grandpa. I use the word rare because the only new copy on is selling for $860 (there’s also a copy for sale on In the archives of the Air Force Museum on Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, I also found scans of the pages, and other drawings and handwriting, in a folder about my grandpa. 

            Prisoner of War: My Secret Journal, (10) was written by Squadron Leader B. Arct from 1944-45, during his time as a POW at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. It is a compilation of artifacts including handwritten journal entries by Polish Air Force Officer Bohdan Arct, hand-drawn maps, a detailed list of the contents of Red Cross parcels, weekly rations from the German guards, and an illustrated chart of how those rations and parcels depleted towards the end of the war. There are also lines written by the other men in Arct’s bunk room that include poems, journal entries, songs, and notes much like those at the end of a school yearbook. The many instances of cartoons and different men’s handwriting alone make this book a precious source for preservation. Sure, this book exists but who knows how many copies were made, those that I’ve found are difficult to acquire, and as the 90-year old former POW’s pass on it becomes harder to find more information. For example, one man wrote his Canada address for Arct to find him later, it’s doubtful if the man or his family still live there. There’s also a note from a New Zealand soldier named Kai Ora, all of the time I’ve spent researching WWII over the years and I had forgotten that New Zealand was involved. 

The image seen here is from my Grandpa’s folder in the archives and is similar to the drawings in Arct’s book.

I feel the heavy sense of information overload from this one book alone. It is such a unique and precious resource, but I don’t know what to do with it. In the spirit of information sharing, I’ve wanted to create a website to upload research from my thesis and bits of my interview with my grandpa so that others searching for information about their ancestor might find a little more. However, the copyright for this book is strict and I don’t know how to contact the rights holders-Arct’s descendents. The following poem is from the book and was also written in a small notebook that my Grandpa made while at Stalag Luft I (covers from butter tins and pages from cigarette packages). I remember that he became choked up when he read it to me during our interview. 

High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr., 1922-1941

“Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings, Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sunsplit clouds and done a hundred things you have Not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and spun high in the sunlit silence. Up, up the long, delirious burning blue I’ve topped the windswept heights with ease Where never larks or even eagles flew, Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting winds Along the footless halls of air, And while with silent lifted mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

1. Clooney, George (Producer & Director). (2014). The Monuments Men [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox. 
2.  Heritage in Peril: Digital Approaches to Preservation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from–digital-approaches-to-preservation.html
3.  Paul Collart. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from
4.  Palmyra: the modern destruction of an ancient city. (n.d.). Retrieved from
5.  Exhibition from the Archive of Paul Collart Includes Previously Unpublished Images of Palmyra | Aga Khan Documentation Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from
6.  Society, National Geographic. (2013, April 8). Mauna Kea. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from
7.  Mauna Kea. (n.d.) Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from
8.  UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage Webportal – Show entity. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2019, from
9.  Schwartz, Joan M. & Terry Cook. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.
10.  Arct, B. (1988). Secret Journal: Life In A World War II Prison Camp. Great Britain: Webb & Bower.

Newest Americans: Activating Archives Through Oral History

Through the historical gates of Barnard College, under the shadow of Riverside Church, and down the stairs of the Milstein Center Library, Columbia University’s Oral History Master of Arts program held the second event in a series of oral history and story-telling workshops. Tim Raphael, co-founder and director of the Newest Americans oral history and story-telling project, presented about the origins and scope of the project. Despite being a talk geared towards historians and story-tellers, there stood out a few interesting connections to preservation and representation in archives and story-telling. 

Raphael, a newly appointed Arts, Cultures, and Media Professor at Rutgers University, displayed his theater background with the ease in which he handled a few technical difficulties. Through video clips not cooperating, his laptop having died hours ago, and being emailed the wrong and out-of-order slide presentation, Raphael handled himself well and showed only a slight nervousness at speaking to Ivy League students and professors. Personally, I felt at ease upon overhearing several students discuss their confusion over an assignment, and one students’ phone going off mid-presentation. Ivy League-ers, they’re people too. 

A few sharply worded digs at archivists early on brought to mind Michelle Caswell’s impassioned discussion of the “intellectual rift between archival studies scholarship and humanities scholarship” in her article for Reconstructionism (Caswell, 2016, p. 15). Speaking casually with Columbia’s director of OHMA, Amy Starecheski, Raphael uttered the phrases, I’m paraphrasing, “the archives as chambers of death,”  and “archives are where no on who’s not an academic dare to tread.” As I wondered if this is what it feels like to be an information professional, to feel peeved when someone speaks down on archives, Raphael began his presentation. 

Before introducing the main event, Dr. Starecheski started by acknowledging the land. She acknowledged that Columbia and Barnard sit on the stolen land of the unseated Lenape People, and that indigenous stories are rarely seen in archives. Inspired by the hyper-diverse community of the area, Newest Americans is a multimedia oral history and story-telling project at Rutgers University focused on telling the stories of immigrants and first generation Americans in and around Newark, New Jersey. It works through collaboration between film makers, photographers, artists, historians, journalists, faculty, and students. 

It all started when a cardboard box of tapes from the 90s was found in the corner of a library, “and the librarian didn’t even know it was there” mused Raphael. These tapes were found to contain over 120 interviews with people who moved to Newark during the Great Migration between 1916 and 1970. Interviews with people of African heritage and descendents of slaves, the stories inspired Raphael to tell, what he calls, “local narratives with national and global implications.” The stories told are all examples of the preservation of cultural heritage, and the attempt to collect the stories of often ignored Americans. The goal of the format is to, as Raphael explained, “activate the archive” by creating engaging, entertaining, and informational short videos that new dimension to the american story. 

Raphael showed one of the first projects produced by Newest Americans: an 8 and a half-minute documentary about current Newark mayor, Ras Baraka, his father, and his grandfather. The two voices heard in We Came and Stayed: Coyt Jones/Ras Baraka, are that of Baraka and his grandfather: Coyt Jones, who was the grandson of a slave and whose interview was one of the over 120 found in a box. Jones was asked over 14 pages of questions for an oral history project organized by the Krueger-Scott Cultural Center in the 90s. 

The Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka answers questions in an interview with Marcia Brown at City Hall, in Newark, New Jersey, on March 13, 2015. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

This is a long quote but it perfectly summarizes the documentary: “In his interview, Coyt Jones reflects on his arrival in Newark [in 1927] and the city in which he raised his family. […] Ras Baraka sat down with Marcia Brown to share his own memories of growing up in Newark, and to answer some of the same questions posed to his grandfather twenty years ago. Together these interviews describe how the Great Migration transformed a family and a city (Newest Americans, 2015).” This is an entertaining way to preserve cultural heritage and I can envision a museum exhibit dedicated to the projects inspired by these tapes. In a way, this story is an example of Macdonald’s ‘difficult heritage.’ It is a way for people who lived through the civil rights era and were victims of injustice to further take ownership of their history and identity. 

After We Came and Stayed, Newest Americans expanded into stories of people of many different backgrounds and U.S. cities, and recently began projects in Guatemala, Malta, and Lebanon. There was a tense moment towards the end of the question and answer part of the event when Raphael was asked about his role as a storyteller who is a white male and the inherent power imbalance. He appeared a bit shaken and shifted to the importance of story-telling and how much he loves the stories and that with the “access to all these amazing people” how could he not want to tell their stories. He finished his non-answer by stating, “if we only told our own stories, what a f—-ing boring world it would be.” Miriam Posner addressed this issue at the end of her keynote speech . She said, “it’s incumbent upon all of us […] to push for the inclusion of underrepresented communities […] (Posner, 2015). But, as Joan Shwartz noted towards the end of an introduction to two issues of Archival Science, and referencing Verne Harris, “It is important […] not to romanticize the marginalized, or feel elated for saving them from historical oblivion” (Schwartz, 2002, p. 17). There is a trend among archivists to collect previously unheard or underrepresented voices and stories, but inherent bias exists even if unintentional. For example, Indigenous Cataloging is the process for organizing information of indigenous people, but to have a separate phrase possibly further marginalizes the community. However, these stories need to be preserved and told as well, even if they are told by an outsider. It’s a difficult issue with a lot of ongoing discussion. 

Representation and preservation in archives and oral history will continue to focus more on the underrepresented voice and I think the best thing to do is, like Dr. Starecheski, acknowledge that we are on stolen land and acknowledge the power imbalance of a white male producing a documentary about the those underrepresented voices. Newest Americans is an admirable example of activating archives to bring stories alive. 

Heidi Klise


  1. Caswell, Michelle. (2016). “The Archive’ is Not An Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies” Reconstruction 16(1).
  2. Macdonald, Sharon. (2015). “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” Museum International 67: 6–22
  3. Newest Americans. (Summer 2015). “We Came and Stayed: Coyt Jones/Ras Baraka.” Retrieved from
  4. Posner, Miriam (2016). What’s next: The radical, unrealized potential of digial humanities. Keystone DH conference, University of Pennsylvania, July 22, 2015.
  5. Schwartz, Joan M. & Terry Cook. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.