For the purposes of this project, our team of student investigators began with two articles:
- Chas. Chaillé Long, “Send Back the Obelisk!” The North American Review Vol. 143, No. 359 (Oct., 1886), pp. 410-413
- James Cuno, “Culture Wars: The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts,” Foreign Affairs 93, 6 (2014): 119-129
James Cuno’s highly influential book, Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) is perhaps his best known work, written in defense of encyclopedic museums and their traditional role as hegemonic centers of cultural preservation and promotion. It is a topic on which Cuno has written extensively, and his work and ideas have been widely promoted among the museum world and in many forms of the press.
Defenses for repatriation of cultural artifacts tend to be more case-specific in their presentation, as often authors are focused on one object or series/collection of objects when addressing the issue. One of the most prominent voices in defense of repatriation in recent years has been Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian chief of Antiquities. Hawass is notable for the number of public demands made to media outlets for the return of Egyptian artifacts held in non-Egyptian museums. He has also decried the lack of preservation and protection given to some Egyptian artifacts placed on display outside of museum control, such as the obelisk, called Cleopatra’s Needle, installed in New York City’s Central Park, that is the subject of Long’s impassioned article cited above.
The Museums Association Policy Statement on Repatriation of Cultural Property lays out many of the complexities surrounding repatriation debates, including listing several prominent examples.
This debate, as the students discuss, is often emotionally charged, and deeply involved in the relationships between modern nations and their perceived – or selective – sense of their own history.