“Museums in a Suitcase” Foster Understanding and Counter Violent Extremism in Libya  

August 4, 2020

Due to the ongoing conflict, museums across Libya remain closed to protect their collections from looting and other damage.  As a result, many communities in Libya have lost a vital link to their country’s rich past that museums and public programming create. It has also left these communities susceptible to extremist ideologies that attempt to distort or erase historical memory and to devalue or destroy cultural objects, sites, and traditions. 

Thanks to a partnership started in 2018 between the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Libyan Department of Antiquities, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Libya, communities are once again able to connect with the rich cultural heritage of Libya through “Museums in a Suitcase.” These outreach toolkits help facilitate hands-on activities for the public including a mock excavation, the documentation of artifacts (replicas of vases and oil lamps), and the conservation of a broken (modern) clay jar.

With financial support from the U.S. Embassy in Libya through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and the Cultural Antiquities Task Force, the program expanded beginning in 2019 to participants in Ghadames, Sabratha, Leptis Magna, Bani Walid, Sirte, al Beidah, Cyrene, Sebha, Yefren, Nalut, Ghat, Germa, Zuwara, Janzour, Tripoli, and Benghazi. “Museum in a Suitcase” events have provided education and stewardship activities to over 430 teachers, K-12, and university students that promote cultural understanding and counteract violent extremism and the destruction of shared heritage.  There are now 23 suitcases in circulation and there have been more than 15 workshops since October 2019.

Along with the program partners, these outreach events have included local municipalities, universities, heritage groups, and the Libyan Tourist Police and Antiquities Protection Authority. Dr. Mofida Mohammed, Chair of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sabratha, used the “Museum in a Suitcase” to raise awareness about cultural heritage protection among grade-schoolers as well as local tourist police officers who are responsible for the physical protection of the archaeological site of Sabratha and its surroundings. Regarding the project, Dr. Mohammed noted, “Given the difficult circumstances that we currently face in Libya, and the lack of resources at our university, these suitcase activities help both our students and the instructors forget some of the depressing aspects of our lives and focus on something we all care about: protecting our culture.”

About the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), created in 2001 at the direction of Congress, supports projects to preserve a wide range of cultural heritage in less developed countries, including historic buildings, archaeological sites, ethnographic objects, paintings, manuscripts, and indigenous languages and other forms of traditional cultural expression. Since its creation, AFCP has supported more than 1,000 cultural heritage projects around the world. 

About the Cultural Antiquities Task Force 

Created by the State Department in 2004 at the direction of Congress, the Cultural Antiquities Task Force (CATF) comprises federal agencies that share a common mission to combat antiquities trafficking in the United States and abroad. Since its creation, the CATF has supported more than 95 domestic and international cultural property training programs.