HIstory Talk: Who Owns the Past? Museums and Cultural Heritage Repatriation
In November 2018, a report commissioned by French President Emannuel Macron called for artifacts taken to France during the heyday of European imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to be returned to Africa, sending shockwaves throughout the museum world. “I cannot accept,” said Macron, “that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France.” The expropriation of material culture has proven controversial in a variety of contexts, from the acquisition of Native American remains by American museums to the complicated provenance of Greek and Roman antiquities held by such major art institutions as the Getty Villa in Los Angeles and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, debates about the rightful ownership of conquered cultural artifacts are almost as old as imperial conquest itself, as evidenced by Cicero’s 70 BCE denunciation of the Roman plundering of Greek temples in conquered Sicily.
This month, your History Talk podcast hosts Lauren Henry and Eric Michael Rhodes speak with two experts in material culture and museum studies — Professor Sarah Van Beurden and Origins editor Steven Conn — about how cultural heritage repatriation debates have played out differently around the world, as well as what these debates reveal about the very nature of cultural heritage itself.
History Talk is a history podcast for everyone, featuring smart conversations about today’s most interesting topics and produced by Ohio State's Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective.