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From Here to Timbuktu Lessons in cultural diplomacy from Cynthia Perrin Schneider ’71 Timbuktu: a city in Mali so remote it was once thought mythical, a name still synonymous with the ends of the earth. It’s currently the site of the most dangerous U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world. Who would consider it the very place where seeds of world peace could be sown? Cynthia Perrin Schneider ’71 isn’t one to think small. In her 2017–18 Hall Fellow lecture at Concord Academy in November, she introduced the Timbuktu Renaissance, her platform aiding Mali’s recovery from recent abuses of violent extremism through a focus on its culture. It’s a model of countering hatred and oppression through cultural diplomacy. Schneider spoke at CA on the eve of a trip to Mali for a concert to launch the initiative. Amid much division and mistrust, “a concert is the one thing that everyone will come out for,” she said. “It’s an important way for the region to recover from this occupation.” Through a partnership with the Timbuktu Renaissance, the Google Cultural Institute is digitizing, preserving, translating, and disseminating the texts of a treasure trove of some 300,000 historical manuscripts that librarians smuggled to safety in southern Mali during Timbuktu’s recent occupation. They will demonstrate that the city was once a great center of civilization. “These manuscripts, written in the middle of nowhere, in Timbuktu, could have been written in Florence,” Schneider said. “They are all about humanism, poetry, literature, music, scientific exploration, tolerance, morality, and good governance. They aren’t very well known, but they will be soon.” Schneider has spent much of her life convincing others of the vital role of the arts in addressing some of the world’s toughest problems. A specialist in 16th- and 17th-century Dutch painting, Schneider’s cultural knowledge served her well as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands from 1998 to 2001. Following her return to civilian life, she co-founded three organizations that unite the arts and politics, of which the Timbuktu Renaissance is the most recent. The other two are MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television), which offers free advice to show producers on crafting authentic Muslim characters, and Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, which uses the power of performance to humanize

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global politics. Schneider is a professor of diplomacy and culture at Georgetown, where she is attempting to shift international relations pedagogy from focusing on security and global strategy to valuing the perspectives of the people affected. When policymakers don’t take cultural work seriously, Schneider tells them that extremists’ first action anywhere when they take over is to target culture: They ban music, they destroy shrines and artifacts. “That’s because culture is what holds people together,” Schneider said at CA. “It gives them strength. If you eliminate culture, people are much weaker and can be controlled and subjugated. So you can give people strength and resilience and help them recover from conflict by bringing back the culture.” The Hall Fellowship is an annual endowed lecture named for former headmistress Elizabeth B. Hall and established in 1963 to honor her tenure. Over the years, this lectureship has brought a wide array of accomplished individuals to CA. LEARN MORE Watch Schneider’s Hall Fellow lecture and learn more about Timbuktu Renaissance at www.concordacademy.org/timbuktu.

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Profile for Concord Academy

CA Magazine Spring 2018 Issue  

The spring 2018 issue of CA Magazine highlights alumnae/i and students who are giving back, both in their communities and further afield. Ca...

CA Magazine Spring 2018 Issue  

The spring 2018 issue of CA Magazine highlights alumnae/i and students who are giving back, both in their communities and further afield. Ca...

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