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The Politics of Destruction: Targeting World Heritage


Admission requirements

In enrollment for this course, students from the MA Asian Studies have priority. A limited number of places is available for students of the MA International Relations. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not from 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 addition, the 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 workgroups, during which students will be actively engaged in presentations, discussions, and paper writing. Each class will cover a case study dealing with the destruction of cultural heritage; most of the sites to be discussed are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Topics will include but are not limited to Syria’s cultural heritage in conflict; Bombing of Pompeii in 1943; The destruction of Bosnia’s cultural heritage; Destruction of antiques during China’s Cultural Revolution; The death of Old Kashgar.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course students will:

  • have gained 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;

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

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


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. The extra assignment for this course is a 500 words summary of an article assigned as reading for the missed class. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Active participation in the class meetings and discussions 10%
Critical analysis of literature and source information, including weekly written assignments (300 words) 10%
AQCI written assignment: Argument, Question, Connections and Implications (1,000 words) 20%
Research proposal case study (1,000 words) 20%
Term paper (5,000) words for MA students 40%

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.

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.


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.

Inspection and feedback

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.

  • Bevan, R. 2006. The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War. London: Reaktion Books.

  • Chickering, R., Forster, S. and B. Greiner. 2005. A World at Total War: Global Conflict and the Politics of Destruction, 1937-1945 (Publications of the German Historical Institute). Cambridge: CUP.

  • Coward, M. 2009. Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction (Routledge Advances in International Relations and Global Politics). London: Routledge.

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

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


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.



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.