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The Politics of Destruction: Targeting World Heritage


Admission requirements

MA-Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to one of the mentioned master programmes, are requested to contact their co-ordinator of studies.


Heritage is always political. Targeting world heritage sites has led to the deliberate shattering of history and national identity worldwide. Massive intentional destruction of cultural heritage has been employed in recent decades as a dogmatic tactic of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution. Although cultural heritage is legally protected, and its ruination in times of armed conflict is widely considered a war crime, most of the targeted sites have been considerably damaged and their reconstruction has become a complex political conundrum.
Giving a voice to the different stakeholders engaged in the reconstruction projects and providing a nuanced discussion on the political circumstances that led to the destruction of world heritage sites will be the topic of this course to be offered within the Leiden programme of Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe in the summer semester of 2021. In addition, the new course will acquaint students with the legal framework prohibiting targeted destruction of heritage (The Hague Convention, 1954; The Geneva Convention Protocol, 1977, etc.) and will introduce them to key concepts of critical heritage studies in the context of transnationalism, globalisation and decolonisation.
The course is organised around a cluster of lectures and workshops, during which students will be actively engaged in presentations, discussions, and paper writing. Professor Michael Herzfeld, will give several lectures and will hold online office hours in spring 2021.

Course objectives

  • gain insight into the ideological practices behind the targeted destruction of world heritage sites under the influence of political, religious, economic and social factors;

  • recognise key issues, concepts, and international frameworks related to the destruction and rebuilding of heritage sites;

  • articulate your own understanding of heritage in danger by developing a case study on Europe or Asia in which you will analyse how heritage sites have become a target of destruction or damage in the midst of social and political change; you will explore the transmission of beliefs, values and collective acts of cultural remembering and forgetting;

  • evaluate the international heritage discourses on reconstructing world heritage sites in view of international legislation .


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction



Total course load 10 EC = 280 hours

o Online Lectures by the instructore: 12 x 2 hrs = 24 hrs
o Additional lectures and seminars by Prof. Michael Herzfeld: 4 x 2 hrs= 8 hrs

  • Reading assigments: 58 hrs

  • Weekly written assignments: 25 hrs
    o Term Paper: 40 hrs

Assessment method

Active participation in the class meetings and discussions 10%
Critical analysis of literature and source information, including weekly written assignments (500 words)
AQCI written assignment: Argument, Question, Connections and Implications (1000 words) 10%

Research proposal case study (1000 words) 20%
Term paper (5000) words for MA students 40%
The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.
The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Term paper submission
The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.
All assignments should be submitted through Brightspace.
Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (40%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.
A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.
Exam review
How and when a term paper review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the course results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the course results, a term paper review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Students can read one of these books or some of the chapters of these edited volumes as an introduction to contemporary academic debates concerning heritage in consultation with the lecturer. Additional readings for each class will be listed in the syllabus and provided via Brightspace.

  • Meskell, L. 2018. A Future in Ruins. Oxford: OUP.

  • Harrison, R. 2009. Understanding the Politics of Heritage. Manchester: MUP.

  • Nagaoka, M. (ed). 2020. The Future of the Bamiyan Buddha Statues. Heritage Reconstruction in Theory and Practice. Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


This has to be filled out by the key-user of the department.
Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.
Not applicable.


Contact information
Dr. Elena Paskaleva


The course is compulsory within the MA specialisation Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe. Students can also engage in a Double Degree Programme, offered by Leiden University, the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and one of the Asian partner universities.