American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Civilizational Memory: The Transformation of Palmyra as a Cultural Patrimony of The West

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Sridevi Menon (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kenneth W. Borland (Other)

Third Advisor

Andrew Schocket (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sara Khorshidifard (Committee Member)


A UNESCO-listed world heritage site located in the Syrian desert, Palmyra has been an ancient global crossroads of trade and culture. It has drawn tourists and scholars from all over the world and represented a palimpsest of eastern and western histories and cultures. In August 2015, the advance of ISIS into Palmyra and its calculated destruction of ancient monuments in Palmyra shocked the global community and led to an outpouring of grief. This dissertation examines the ways in which institutions and scholars in Europe and the United States responded to this sense of intense loss and argues that the international effort to rescue and preserve Palmyra has made Palmyra a cultural patrimony of the West. Focusing on digital and physical recuperations of Palmyrene monuments by various Western-based digital initiatives, I argue that Palmyra has been appropriated into an archive of Western civilizational memory. Edward Said’s scholarship on the east/west binary and colonial discourse provides a framework for my analysis of the West’s appropriation of Palmyra as its cultural heritage and the visual colonialism that is exemplified in the recreations of Palmyrene artifacts and monuments. I engage the scholarship of Maurice Halbwachs and Astrid Erll, among others, to explore the role of memory in transforming the significance of Palmyra and the perceived threat to Western civilizational memory. Virtual collaborative projects on Palmyra such as the #New Palmyra project, The Palmyra Portrait Project, “The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra,” and the Institute for Digital Archaeology serve as key sources in this dissertation. These efforts to reclaim Palmyra by the West as a patrimony of the West must be juxtaposed against the reality that Palmyra’s antiquities have always remained present in the lives of Syrians and people living in the region. Therefore, the real Palmyra that once stood majestically in the Syrian desert is lost in translation and transference.