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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcard

    Mo’ mummy, mo’ problems

    The tattooed head of a Maori warrior, on display in a museum in Rouen, France, since 1875, was recently offered to the New Zealand government by the city’s mayor as a symbol of atonement for French colonialism. Before the shrunken head could be shipped, however, the French Ministry of Culture blocked the deal, citing a law protecting “”inalienable”” works of art.


    The Maori traditionally preserved the heads of tattooed warriors to honor their memory. Increased contact between Maori and Europeans in the 19th century created a market for the heads as works of art – and thus began the dispute of dual definitions. Is it a body part, or is it art? Economically speaking, a mummified Maori head was worth more than a Maori, and they were hunted for their moko, or forcibly tattooed and then decapitated.

    This head has been in France since at least 1875, and it’s no longer possible to trace a descendant or to show the exact route from one man’s neck to another man’s Museum of Natural History. What was violently taken may now be peacefully returned to New Zealand for burial. It may seem like the completion of a cycle, but it is a mistake. The head was preserved to honor the memory of a man, and now it is to be buried?

    There must be a middle ground between reverence for the dead and the preservation of history – and it’s not a museum in Normandy, nor is it a grave in New Zealand. I do not mean to be flippant when I say that, after 132 years in Rouen, the head is due some fresh air and exercise. The head should tour the world, teaching people about Maori history, colonial oppression and the evils of putting a price on a head. History does not belong to any nation – its lessons are too valuable to be hoarded or buried.

    -Eric Moll is a sophomore majoring in creative writing and environmental science.


    As with similar scuffles over the Elgin Marbles, this conflict over the fate of the Maori head raises a much larger question: What is to be done with cultural artifacts acquired via imperialism? The French government would do well to consider this question less defensively than it has done.

    Formerly imperial nations that have built world-class museums partially from the relics of their colonies (or the colonies of other empires) argue that returning the items to their places of origin would not only detrimentally impact the quality of their museums, but also force patrons to travel the entire world to get the same education a single museum currently provides.

    It’s a valid point; these museums do provide an important public service by displaying a rich variety of art and artifacts from all time periods and locations in one place – but isn’t having to go to Paris or London to view “”native”” artifacts kind of an imperialist activity as well? So perhaps the best solution would be for European institutions to exchange some of their material with, or donate or loan it to museums in formerly colonial regions, so that they, too, can acquire the reputation of the Louvre or the British Museum.

    -Alyson Hill is a senior majoring in classics, German studies and history.

    Uprooting the Ivies?

    At an event scheduled last week as part of The New Yorker’s annual literary festival, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, famous for his books “”Blink”” and “”The Tipping Point,”” debated essayist Adam Gopnik on the merits of abolishing the Ivy League. At one point in the argument, Gladwell suggested that Harvard, Princeton and Yale be abolished, and their massive endowments used to “”purchase Canada.””


    Who doesn’t want to abolish the Ivy League that isn’t one of its privileged members? Jealousy used to be an instinct that drove Ivy League revulsion by the masses in the past, but not anymore. A growing cadre of both private and public institutions offer equivalent, if not better, academic challenges, faculty interaction and quality of students. Our very own university is considered a “”Public Ivy”” by college admissions experts Howard and Matthew Greene. Although not as small and exclusive, public state universities like the UAhave expanded honors programs, attracted world-class faculty and persuaded many Harvard, Yale and Princeton admittees to their more modest, unpretentious campuses.

    Ivy League envy and loathing are obsolete and silly with so many top universities around. Yet, Gladwell is right that traditional, institutionalized hierarchies of prestige perpetuated by the Ivy League ought to disappear. Disbanding the Ivy League won’t eliminate passé academic pecking orders, but giving credence to other institutions of equal academic merit certainly will.

    Besides, why split up an establishment that is essentially meaningless now? The Ivy League is just an athletic conference (and a pathetic one at that). Does anyone even know or care about the Ivy League anymore? Can you name all eight of its members? Probably not. Good for you.

    -Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy.


    To those for whom passing judgment on others is a treasured pastime, eliminating the Ivy League is a depressing notion. That aside, although taking a stand against elitism is admirable, the Ivy League is little more than a straw man for deeper issues of inequality in American society.

    Unfortunately, elitism is not exclusive to the Ivy League. Because social networks, which are a function of class, weigh heavily on career opportunities and potential social mobility, elitism takes root long before high school graduation. For example, college consulting for American high school students, according to estimates by the Independent Education Consultants Association, is an industry worth more than $100 million, a figure that separates the haves from the have-nots regardless of whether admission to an Ivy League is their goal. As long as there are people who are willing to pay a fortune for higher education, brand-name schools will flourish – whether or not Harvard and Yale remain among them is really beside the point.

    -Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science.

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