Monuments Woman is a documentary podcast featuring two longtime friends, George Gavrilis, host and Central Asia expert, and Laura Tedesco, archaeologist and veteran U.S. Department of State cultural heritage specialist. The subject of the podcast is Laura's decade-plus relationship with Afghanistan and the perceived successful and failed U.S. efforts to preserve the country's diverse and rich heritage.
Laura arrived in Afghanistan for the first time in 2010, and remained in Kabul full-time through 2011 as part of the U.S. diplomatic and military surge. She has since made over 50 trips to the country. The two take us on her ambitious and difficult mission to protect the country's vulnerable heritage. And they reflect on what is now at risk under Taliban control.
The podcast is intentionally apolitical. Deeply personal and intimate, Laura opens up about challenges, self-doubt, mis-steps, starting from when she first arrived in Afghanistan green. The exchanges are honest, serious, informed, while filled with humor and humanity. Laura's story is also one about marriage, motherhood, and friendship.
The recording began just before the events of August 2021 when the Taliban took control of the entire country, and the mood of the podcast reflects it. George and Laura watched in real time, week after week, what was happening to Afghan friends and colleagues, and how in spite of the U.S. withdrawal, the two countries remain inextricably linked.
Imagine a country so rich in archaeology that it would take a lifetime to see it all. Ruined fortresses in a countryside of fruit orchards and steep mountains. Ancient and medieval sites from a dozen civilizations in nearly every province. So much to protect and preserve, even more to uncover. But, this is not Italy or Greece or Turkey. This is a country without tourists, without money, and without peace. This is Afghanistan.
In 2010, the U.S. government decided to help Afghanistan protect and preserve its archaeological sites, museums and cultural heritage. These were better times, when the U.S. was flush, willing to pump massive sums of money into rebuilding the country. It was a time of optimism, even though the Taliban had regrouped and trouble was on the horizon. And so, the State Department dispatched an archaeologist to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
This podcast is the story of the archaeologist, Laura Tedesco, the Monuments Woman. I should say that Laura hates the title of the podcast; you will learn why as you listen. I should also say that you, our listener, will not be given lessons about ancient civilizations or even the history of Afghanistan. Instead, this podcast is very much about the present day. What does it mean to be an archaeologist in the 21st century? What does it mean to preserve the past for the sake of an uncertain future? After all, this is a country that witnessed the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas at the hands of the Taliban. And if the U.S. is exiting Afghanistan and leaving the elected government at the mercy of the Taliban, what is the point of doing all this work?
My name is George Gavrilis, and I will be your host. I’m an oral historian and writer with a fondness for Afghanistan. I think that Kabul looks like Los Angeles if you squint. Laura, our reluctant Monuments Woman, is the storyteller. We are good friends, so I get to call her Laurie. She’s a cultural heritage specialist and archaeologist who worked in trouble spots like Armenia, Syria, and the Metropolitan Museum, all before coming to Afghanistan. Come join us.
I'm the reluctant star of Monuments Woman, a podcast about the work I’ve done to help preserve Afghanistan's cultural heritage. Being somewhat of a quiet soul, I’m surprised my friends talked me into doing this.
I’m a cultural heritage and preservation specialist working with the U.S. State Department. I’ve spent the past decade living and traveling throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan overseeing the preservation of archaeological sites, artifacts, monuments, and museums.
Along the way, I’ve built up strong relationships with international experts in heritage protection and have taken part in scores of speaking engagements about the work. Few people realize how much time an archaeologist spends behind the desk or in meetings—nothing like Indiana Jones.
I have a PhD in Anthropological Archaeology from NYU, and I wrote a thesis on copper metallurgy in the Bronze Age after spending a lot of time in a basement lab shaving ancient metals and looking through microscopes.
Some years ago, I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a fellow, educator, and editor. If you think working in Afghanistan is tough, try working at the Met or raising teenagers.
Blog post, "6 Things You Probably Don’t Know about Laura Tedesco"
I'm the host of Monuments Woman, a podcast about one woman's journey to help preserve Afghanistan's archaeological and cultural heritage.
I'm also an oral historian and pretty good at getting people to open up. The oral history projects I've done include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Human Rights Campaign, and a few others on behalf of philanthropists who work in global health.
Along the way, I've also done a fair amount of consulting for the United Nations, especially on the major development challenges that Afghanistan and Central Asia face.
And I used to be a political scientist and Ottoman historian until academic life became too insular and lonely. That's a story for another day.
Christian D. Bruun
May Eleven Projects, Inc
"This Love" (featuring Salar Nader)
Toño Foraster Mariscal
Alejandro Gallego Lopez
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music | Google Podcasts
iHeart Radio | Sounder | Stitcher | TuneIn | YouTube
© 2021–2 Monuments Woman - All Rights Reserved.