The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum

April 16, 2009 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Harris School of Public Policy Studies, 1155 E. 60th Street, Room 140C

Lawrence Rothfield, University of Chicago

Rothfield will discuss his new book, out from the University of Chicago Press in April 2009.

On April 10, 2003, as the world watched a statue of Saddam Hussein come crashing down in the heart of Baghdad, a mob of looters attacked the Iraq National Museum. Despite the presence of an American tank unit, the pillaging went unchecked, and more than 15,000 artifacts—some of the oldest evidence of human culture—disappeared into the shadowy worldwide market in illicit antiquities. In the five years since that day, the losses have only mounted, with gangs digging up roughly half a million artifacts that had previously been unexcavated; the loss to our shared human heritage is incalculable.

  • What caused the U.S. failure to protect the museum?
  • Who should be responsible for planning to protect cultural heritage in the wake of an invasion?
  • How can the planning process be improved to prevent what happened in Iraq from happening again elsewhere?

Read more about The Rape of Mesopotamia.

Read about Antiquities Under Siege – a volume of essays by experts in law, foreign affairs, archaeology and the military, edited by Rothfield.

Lawrence Rothfield is co-founder of the Cultural Policy Center, and serves as its associate director for graduate studies. He is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Chicago. His major publications include Vital Signs, a book about the social function of the nineteenth-century novel; two volumes of edited essays: Unsettling "Sensation": Arts Policy Lessons from the Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy(Rutgers University Press, 2001) and Antiquities under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War (AltaMira Press, 2008); and a study of the music industry and live music scene in Chicago, Chicago Music City. The next phases of Rothfield’s multiphase project on the protection of cultural heritage during wartime will focus on new ways of regulating and policing the international market for illicit antiquities, and on the ethics of collecting.