Returning Cultural Artifacts Discussion

Directions # 1

Read the article,

Western Museums Should Repatriate Cultural Artefacts (Links to an external site.)

.(see the attachmnt ) Determine if you believe museums should return cultural artifacts to their country of origin or retain them.

Your Think 1: Pre-History response must be approximately 150 words and submitted as a text entry. Your response must begin with a statement of your position and contain narrative to support your opinion on this issue. You must provide a word count at the end of your text entry.

Directions #2

Your Think : Code of Hammurabi assignment requires you to read the laws found in

Choose three laws from The Code of Hammurabi. Identify each code by its number, provide the exact wording of the code and translate the code into your own words. Indicate if the code is fair or not fair and explain why or why not. Do not use Code #143. Use the format provided in following example:


Code #143. If she have not been a careful mistress, have gadded about, have neglected her house and have belittled her husband, that woman shall be thrown into the water.

If a wife is not a good wife, has gone out partying, and has made fun of her husband in front of others, then she will be thrown into the water.

I believe this code is not fair. Even though the woman might not have been a good wife, throwing her into the water is abusive. A better alternative would be for the husband and wife to discuss their marital problems and attempt to respectfully resolve them.

Your Think 2-3: The Code of Hammurabi assignment must be approximately 150 words and submitted as a text entry. You must provide a word count at the end of your text entry.

sixth-form debating competition
“Western museums should repatriate cultural
In November 2018, a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel
Macron caused a debate when it concluded that French museums should return
to Africa thousands of artefacts taken during colonialism [Ref: Financial Times] .
The report’s authors were frank: continuing to hold such treasures amounts to
depriving African people of the “spiritual nourishment that is the foundation of
their humanity” where “Africans find themselves struggling to recover the thread
of an interrupted memory” Ref [Restitution Report]. Macron endorsed the report,
and agreed to immediately return 26 artworks to the Kingdom of Benin
The report re-ignited an ongoing debate about the housing of cultural artefacts
in museums miles away from their place of origin, often taken by colonial
authorities or acquired through other unjust means. This debate echoed one that
emerged earlier in 2018 when Monika Grutters, Germany’s minister for culture,
published guidelines for dealing with colonial-era artefacts that urged museums
to restitute artefacts [Ref: ArtNet]. Indeed, the restitution of Jewish works stolen by
the Nazis in many ways set the tone for the debate as a whole [Ref: Washington
Post]. Nonetheless, the restitution of colonial-era artefacts is in many ways more
wide-ranging that the question of restitution to Nazi victims.
In December of 2018, the British Museum announced it would return its collection
of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria under a loan agreement [Ref: CNN]. Aside from the
Benin Bronzes, the British Museum has been under pressure regarding the
Parthenon Marbles, which have long been such a point of controversy
[Ref: National Geographic]. Most recently, Greece has taken the opportunity
provided by Brexit to repeat its claim to the world-famous treasures [Ref: Daily
Although the Marbles remain a cause célèbre in the controversy about
repatriation of artefacts, there are many other contested objects
[Ref: Telegraph]. The governor of Easter Island has appealed to the British
Museum to return a statue, arguing the museum ‘has our soul’ [Ref: CNN]. Egypt’s
chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass has demanded the return of the Nefertiti bust
from the Neues Museum in Berlin, and secured the return of fresco fragments
from the Louvre [Ref: Scotsman]. Several years ago, the Scottish National Party
argued that the entire set of the Lewis Chessman [Ref: BBC News] belongs in
Scotland and should be returned from the British Museum [Ref: Scotsman].
The importance of preserving the world’s cultural artefacts remains a sensitive
issue following the destruction of the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of
Nimrud [Ref: Guardian] and then of Palmyra in Syria [Ref: Guardian] by Islamic
State (ISIS). Syrian archaeologists are now attempting to restore the ruins at
Palmyra [Ref: Telegraph], now reclaimed from ISIS militants by Syrian and Russian
forces, and the Syrian government is seeking to reclaim and display antiquities
stolen and sold on the black market by ISIS [Ref: Reuters].
Such events, some argued at the time, should serve as a “wake-up call” to
Western museums to be protective of their collections and unapologetic in
disputes over contested remains because “important antiquities should be
treated as the common property of mankind” [Ref: New York Times] – a
sentiment which runs counter to that expressed in the Macron-backed report,
which has cultural artefacts properly belonging to specific cultural groups. So do
cultural artefacts belong in their country of origin, to be viewed and appreciated
in the context in which they were made? Or are contested artefacts such as the
Elgin Marbles part of a larger tapestry of world culture, which Western museums
should keep, and preserve for us all?
This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the
context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been
What is the role of museums?
Many of the world’s most famous museums were founded in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, collecting objects that would offer a comprehensive
knowledge of the world. In our post-colonial era, it has been argued that their
role is no longer clear and straightforward. Museums find themselves in the
middle of a debate about what should take priority: principles of universal
understanding and academic research, where objects are curated together to
tell “not just the history of the local or national parish, but all history, all learning,
all human expression” [Ref: The Times] or, in contemporary society, whether it is
“proper to remove a work from its original cultural setting, losing its context?”
[Ref: Forbes]. The British Museum and others argue that they exist to promote
universal understanding of our shared human history, and that this requires
maintaining the integrity of their existing collections [Ref: Guardian]. These
encyclopaedic museums, it is argued, transcend national and cultural
boundaries and that “culture, while it can have deeply rooted, special meanings
to specific people, doesn’t belong to anyone in the grand scheme of things. It
doesn’t stand still” [Ref: New York Times]. But critics of this outlook challenge the
idea that such collections need to be housed in Western museums, because
“world-class museums are not held by some act of God to Northern Europe or
North America” [Ref: Guardian].
What are the arguments for the repatriation of cultural artefacts?
Advocates argue that repatriation of artefacts contributes towards making
reparations for historical wrongs, and builds a new diplomacy between nations
and people [Ref: US News]. Writer Helena Smith suggests that disputed artefacts
are best understood and appreciated in the context of their place of origin,
stating: “Every country has the right after all, to the heritage that is an inherent
part of its cultural identity” [Ref: Guardian]. She concludes, in relation to the
Parthenon Marbles: “Ownership of objects is no longer important, and the Greeks
are willing to put that issue aside…what is far more important is context,
appreciating artworks in their places of birth” [Ref: Guardian]. This view is
supported by Ghanaian writer Kwame Opoku, who argues: “Those Western
museums and governments that are busy proclaiming their wishes to celebrate
with Nigeria and other African states…independence could follow their words
with concrete actions by sending some African artefacts back to their countries
of origin” [Ref: Museum Security Network]. Similarly, even some museums believe
that successful acts of repatriation can symbolise our common humanity,
building relationships with indigenous communities, and righting historical
wrongs [Ref: Australian Government]. Another aspect to the discussion is that
many of the artefacts in question, such as the Benin Bronzes [Ref: Wikipedia],
have complex and morally ambiguous histories. Indeed, asks Jenkins: “The
objects campaigners want to be returned, to apologise for colonisation, then,
were crafted on the back of the slave trade. Following the logic of righting
historical wrongs, aren’t these artworks tainted by that immoral practice?”
[Ref: Guardian]. In contrast, supporters of repatriation contend that by holding on
to these ‘spoils of war’ Western museums continue to benefit from, and therefore
validate, their colonial legacy, with the Elgin Marbles in particular representing “a
sad reminder of cultural imperialism” [Ref: Forbes]. “In the end”. as one
commentator opines. “the defence for hanging onto contested cultural goods
boils down to the deeply offensive notion that Britain looks after the Parthenon
Marbles, or Benin Heads and plaques better than Greece or Nigeria ever could”
[Ref: Guardian].
On what grounds are the retention of collections defended?
Historian and curator James Cuno outlines the case against repatriation by
arguing that culture is universal, and by mounting a robust defence of Western
museum collections. He observes: “By presenting the artefacts of one time and
culture next to those of other times and cultures, encyclopaedic museums
encourage curiosity about the world and its many people” [Ref: Foreign Affairs].
Art critic Jonathan Jones concurs, noting that placing artefacts in a new context
gives them an added significance “as part of humanity’s heritage”
[Ref: Guardian] to be enjoyed by everyone. Moreover, “In our post-modern, postnationalist world, it’s all about interaction and hybridisation, about celebrating
the diverse cultural components that make up each of us…it means that the
Parthenon Marbles are as much British as they are Greek” [Ref: Telegraph]. For
some, arguments for repatriation are directly opposed to a universal
understanding of culture – and exposes the trend for the explicit politicisation of
culture and art, which leads to “divisive identity politics”, where it is assumed that
“certain people have a special relationship to particular objects, owing to their
ethnic identity” [Ref: Scotsman]. Unfortunately, as one commentator laments:
“Globalisation, it turns out has only intensified, not diminished cultural differences
among nations”, as shown by governments now seeking to “exploit culture” for
their own political purposes [Ref: New York Times]. “The idea that certain objects
belong to certain ethnic groups is destructive”, argues commentator Tiffany
Jenkins “and obscures the universal nature of mankind, the fact that we can
abstract ourselves from our particular circumstances and appreciate the
creation of all human civilisations” [Ref: Scotsman]. There are also practical
problems involved in repatriation – for example, modern Greece is very different
from the nation which existed in the nineteenth century, let alone Ancient
Greece: so who would we rightfully return artefacts to? American critic Michael
Kimmelman asks “why should any objects necessarily reside in the modern
nation-state controlling the plot of land where, at one time, perhaps thousands
of years earlier, they came from?” [Ref: New York Times].
Who owns culture?
Contemporary demands for restitution, some argue, are driven by contemporary
political grievances and that giving in to an understandable desire to right the
wrongs of the past via the repatriation of objects will distract from, and do little
to challenge, the problems historically wronged groups face today [Ref: New York
Times]. Arguably, the very meaning and purpose of museums is at stake in this
debate, with some arguing that “perhaps it is time for museums to start speaking
up for civilisation” [Ref: Guardian], and asking whether humanity’s cultural
heritage belongs to just some of us, or all of us, and how we might best protect,
share and understand it [Ref: Telegraph]. How should we view cultural artefacts,
and how do we decide who owns or displays them? Are they best seen as
universal objects housed in predominantly Western museums which embody
“openness, tolerance, and inquiry about the world, along with the recognition
that culture exists independent of nationalism” [Ref: Foreign Affairs]? Or should
these contested artefacts be returned to their points of origin, allowing the works
to be housed and perhaps better understood in their original context, because
ultimately, “museums need to face up to a reality. Cultural imperialism is dead.
They cannot any longer coldly keep hold of artistic treasures that were acquired
in dubious circumstances a long time ago” [Ref: Guardian]?
It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide
essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion.
Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived
from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a
basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.
Give the Easter Islanders their statue back – it doesn’t belong in the British
Simon Jenkins The Guardian 24 November 2018
Returning looted artefacts will finally restore heritage to the brilliant cultures
that made them
Mark Horton The Conversation 23 November 2018
The British Museum Should Return The Parthenon Marbles To Greece
Leila Amineddoleh Forbes 23 December 2014
The art world shame: why Britain should give its colonial booty back
Jonathan Jones Guardian 4 November 2014
Why western museums should keep their treasures
Tiffany Jenkins The Guardian 25 November 2018
Why the British Museum should keep the Elgin Marbles
Wendy Earle Spiked 12 June 2018
The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artefacts
James Cuno Foreign Affairs December 2014
The Elgin Marbles – Why their home is here
Mark Hudson Telegraph 13 February 2014
How the Parthenon Lost Its Marbles
Juan Pablo Sanchez National Geographic 30 April 2018
Art stolen by the Nazis is still missing. Here’s how we can recover it.
Stuart E. Eizenstat Washington Post 2 January 2018
Who draws the borders of culture?
James Kimmelman New York Times 5 May 2010
Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.
British Museum to return Benin bronzes to Nigeria
Kieron Monks CNN 14 December 2018
Art repatriation: Colonial ghosts haunt German and other European museums
Various The Local DE 22 November 2018
‘You have our soul’: Easter Island pleads with British for statue’s return
Oscar Holland CNN 22 November 2018
The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage: Toward a New Relational Ethics
Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy The Ministry of Culture of the French Republic
1 November 2018
Palmyra priest statue among haul of recovered Syrian relics
Kinda Makieh Reuters 4 October 2018
Syrian archaeologists begin restoring Palmyra artefacts destroyed by Isil
Josie Ensor Telegraph 9 July 2018
France urged to return museum artefacts to Africa
David Pilling Financial Times 23 April 2018
Cultural appropriation: compliment or theft?
Battle of Ideas Academy of Ideas 15 April 2018
The sad story behind Egypt’s ugly Nefertiti Statue
Gogo Lidz Newsweek 8 July 2015
We must save Palmyra or the maniacs will raze civilisation
Boris Johnson Telegraph 17 May 2015
Parthenon Marbles: Greece’s claim is nationalism rhetoric and deserves to fail
Jonathan Jones Guardian 14 May 2015
Preservation or plunder? The battle over the British Museum’s Indigenous
Australian show
Paul Daley Guardian 9 April 2015
Neil MacGregor saved the British Museum. It’s time to reinvent it again
Jonathan Jones Guardian 8 April 2015
Artefacts as instruments of nationalism
James Cuno New York Times 21 January 2015
The British Museum is right to keep its marbles
David Aaronovitch The Times 8 December 2014
We ask the experts: why do we put things into museums?
University of Cambridge 26 November 2013
Ill-gotten gains: how many museums have stolen objects in their collections?
Carl Franzen The Verge 13 May 2013
Send them back
intelligence Squared The Economist 11 June 2012
Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students
have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.
France returns 26 artworks to Benin as report urges restitution
Aaron Ross Reuters 23 October 2018
Greece launches fresh bid to reclaim Elgin marbles from Britain
James Tapsfield Daily Mail 22 August 2018
German museum returns stolen artifacts to Native American tribe
Danielle Haynes UPI 11 June 2018
ISIS Releases Photos of Temple Destruction in Palmyra
Algemeiner 25 August 2015
As ISIS smashes history, curators battle to save threatened antiquities
CBC News 14 April 2015
Court sits at British Museum for first time as judge studies looted Libyan
Telegraph 30 March 2015
Ankara Demands Artifacts from Berlin
Various Spiegel 14 March 2014
Cultural appropriation: compliment or theft?
Battle of Ideas Academy of Ideas 15 April 2018
Send them back
Intelligence Squared The Economist 11 June 2012

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