Apr 18, 2022
Council Conversation Club: Should Museums Return Contested Artifacts?
The topic for the April session of the Council Conversation Club was "Should museums across the world keep or return art and artifacts from other countries or peoples?" Participants received some light reading and listening materials and then came together in person to discuss the topic at hand. Each breakout group was facilitated by several faculty members from the Penn Museum's Cultural Heritage Center.
About the Event
The Council Conversation Club is the Council's version of a "book club." Prior to coming together for this discussion group, participants read a few articles, listen to podcasts, or watch short videos from different viewpoints. Then, during the program, they discuss and debate the issues with their peers and engage with the world around them.
This session was held virtually, and participants received their reading materials upon registration and in advance of the event.
Should museums across the world keep or return contested art and artifacts from other countries or peoples?
Participants joined this discussion about the repatriation of art and artifacts displayed in museums, and if/how they should be returned to their home countries.
Do museums have the right to display contested artifacts from countries that are not their own? Is it acceptable to argue that museums would be able to protect the artifacts in a way that the home country could not? Given that many of these contested artifacts are a result of colonization, is it suitable for countries that have historically colonized (United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States, etc.) to display them? What alternative paths could these museums take instead to address the existence of these artifacts? Do countries have a moral imperative to return the material back to countries? Is it acceptable for countries to demand back artifacts after hundreds of years? What are the positive and negative aspects of having a museum in a different country house these objects? How do these issues affect indigenous or tribal communities?
- Do Historical Objects Belong in their Country of Origin? | History Today magazine
- The British Museum is full of stolen artifacts | Vox
- "Identity and Repatriation - Ep 59: An interview with Dr. Joe Stahlman," Heritage Voices podcast with Jessica Yaquinto and Lyle Balenquah
- "Orphaned Objects, Ethical Standards, and the Acquisition of Antiquities” | by Richard M. Leventhal and Brian I. Daniels, Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law
- “UK Rejection of Restitution of Artefacts: Confirmation or Surprise?” | by Kwame Opoku, Modern Ghana
About our Facilitators
- Richard M. Leventhal, Executive Director of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the Penn Museum; Professor of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
- Brian I. Daniels, Director of Research and Programs for the Penn Cultural Heritage Center; Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania
- Hakimah Abdul-Fattah, William Fontaine Fellow pursuing a Ph.D. in Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
About the Event Sponsors
This event was made possible through a challenge grant matched by corporate partners AMETEK, SEI, and UGI/AmeriGas.