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The Politics of Destruction: Targeting World Heritage (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other programmes are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


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 word 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

Academic Integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.

Students must submit their assignments on Brightspace; assignments will be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

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 (1,500 words 20%
Term paper 8,000 words for Research 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 need a pass mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the course as a whole.

All categories of assessment 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 5.49 or lower and this is the result of a paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the paper is possible (40%). In that case the convener of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convener, after consultation with the student.
A re-sit for other course components is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

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.

Additional literature will be provided via the syllabus.

For the Research MA students additional reading will be determined by the convener at a later stage depending on the research topics and fields of interest of the ResMA students.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof