Tonje Haugland Sørensen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Bergen. Sørensen is an art historian and film scholar, whose transdisciplinary work centers around the reception of history and cultural heritage. She has a particular focus on the nineteenth and twentieth century. Her postdoctoral research will take the form of a monograph tentatively named «Overview – the art of the aerial», and deals with the ideas of the aerial and aerial perspective in the early modern to contemporary western society.
Destruction of a sacrosanct past – iconoclasm in the World Wars
In 1942 the Luftwaffe launched a series of bombing raids against English cities. What distinguished these raids from the overall bombing war was summed up in their colloquial moniker: The Baedeker Raids. This name was used by both Allied and Axis forces, and had its origin in the raids focus on cultural targets selected from the Baedeker tourist guides. The targets selected, such as the cities of Exeter and Canterbury, had little to no military value, but contained instead sites of cultural heritage. It was these sites – designated by three stars in the Baedeker guide – which supposedly was the target for these series of raids. This presentation will use the story of the Baedeker raids as a starting point to reflect on the use of willful cultural destruction as an act of modern warfare, and ask if they can be used to expand our understanding of iconoclasm. Central in this reflection upon the interconnectedness of modern warfare and iconoclasm will be work by Dario Gamboni who,
in The Destruction of Art (1997), argues that any understanding of modern and contemporary iconoclasm must be contextualized via the redefinition of art and its autonomy which grew out of the Enlightenment.
In so doing I will open a two-fold reflection concerning iconoclasm as an act of war, while also reflecting if the very term «iconoclasm» is perhaps best understood as what Mieke Bal (2002) has called a «traveling concept». The latter will hopefully allow for a consideration
of iconoclasm through interdisciplinary cultural analysis, and as such enrich our understanding of the term and its practices in both historical and contemporary perspectives.
Key words: World War I, World War II, Cultural Heritage, Iconoclasm, Aerial bombing, Art History