Lawrence Rothfield on Urban Scenes and Antiquities Under Siege

Urban planners in Jinan and Urban Policy experts at Shandong University like Cao Qianxiang, Vice-Dean of the Political Science Department, chatted with Lawrence Rothfield after his talk.

All day


On Tuesday, June 12th, Lawrence Rothfield spoke at Tsinghua University and on Thursday, June 14th, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  The subject for these talks was the same as his June 9th talk in Jinan at Shandong University: Urban Scenes.

On June 7th at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, Rothfield examined the looting of the Baghdad Museum in the wake of the 2003 American invasion, the break-in at the Cairo Museum in January 2011, and the threats to Libya’s fabled archaeological sites in the fall of 2011– three vignettes of cultural heritage in moments of peril.  He explained what went wrong, and right, in each case.

Lawrence Rothfield is an Associate Professor in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature and a Co-Founder of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.  His research concerns questions about the utilities of culture. What is the history of efforts to mobilize culture for various ends? How has the “public good” aspect of the arts, humanities, and heritage been conceived? If the cultural field can be understood as an economy, a market, or an ecological system, what norms govern its functioning, and what norms ought to do so? What good (or harm) does culture do? How has this impact been measured? How does the state regulate, exploit, promote, protect, or manage the arts and humanities? How can we best understand the role played by intellectuals of various sorts in relationship to the state and public interests?

Professor Rothfield has written or edited volumes on topics ranging from censorship and public funding of museums (Unsettling “Sensation”: Arts Policy Lessons from the Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy), to state–level humanities policy, to the impact of cultural “scenes” on regional urban development. His recent work has concentrated on illicit antiquities and the problem of protecting archaeological sites and museums from looting. Publications on that topic include an edited volume, Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War, and a book on the disastrous failure to secure Iraq’s sites and museums from looting in the wake of the 2003 US invasion, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum. He is currently working on a book about the illicit antiquities market, and a separate project on the origins of modern cultural policy in Renaissance Florence.

The video recording of Lawrence Rothfield’s talk held at the Center in Beijing, along with many other videos of University of Chicago events, can be found at

Special thanks to the Peking University School of Archaelogy and Museology for their support of the Beijing event.  The three Urban Scenes talks were funded, in part, by the American Center for Educational Exchange.