Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section A21. Gift or Loot: Who Owns Cultural Property?

What do a bust of Nefertiti, the Parthenon Marbles, and the tattooed head of a Maori chief have in common? They have all been the focus of contested claims over cultural property, specifically for repatriation. Repatriation occurs when a nation (or people) demands the return of objects currently found in another country, often in a museum. While some countries, including Ethiopia, Italy, and Peru, have been successful in repatriating objects from Great Britain and the United States, many others have not. In this course, we explore the question: Who owns cultural property? Through examples drawn from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Oceania, we study attempts to exercise control over artwork, ethnographic objects, human remains, and structures. We also explore the beliefs, economics, ethics, morals, and laws that underpin such attempts and consider reasons for their failure or success.

Leah Niederstadt
Assistant Professor of Museum Studies, Art History