Who’s Right? Repatriation of Cultural Property
Summary of the Two Arguments
The article presents arguments from two experts on artifacts. One expert supports the repatriation of artifacts to their countries and places of origin, while the other is of the opinion that artifacts should remain in the museums where they are because art is universal. Malcolm Bell supports repatriation for several reasons. He argues that there are moral and legal basis for returning artifacts to their countries of origin. He further asserts that returning an artifact brings about a sense of wholeness to the people and culture of its origin. He concludes that returning artifacts with clamor is to submit to justice. Alternatively, Cluno offers that repatriation is not of essence in the current context of art. He argues that art is universal and preserving artifacts from different parts of the world boots knowledge by eliminating ignorance about the world. He argues that the world is now practically a global village, and a large city could be home to people from virtually every corner of the world. It would be an injustice to such people if an important artifact within its museums endured repatriation to a remote corner of the world, just because that is where it originally came from. These two arguments are portent as they handle a sensitive topic and call for an understanding of where art and artifacts stand in the modern world. Both options present very convincing views, with arguments evoking some soul searching.
Repatriation of the Rosetta Stone
The staple question for the personnel at the British Museum is that if the place was burning to the ground, what would be the first thing they save? This question poses multiple problems for the museum personnel since the British Museum houses several magnificent treasures in its collection. However, if one pressures them, the obvious answer would be the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone is a magnificent item, which was acquired by the British as part of a peace agreement with the Napoleon expedition in Egypt. It is correspondingly conventional that a renowned academic comes to London all the way from Cairo, Egypt on a mission to regain what he perceives to be justly Egyptian. The eminent academic (Dr. Zahi Hawass) contends that the Rosetta Stone is an icon of the Egyptian history, its identity, and has its place in the country of its conception. When one deals with artifacts attained in the imperial past, there are certain complications and demands for repatriation that will arise. An exemplary example of the aforementioned scenario is the controversy witnessed with the Elgin Marbles. In the case of the Rosetta Stone, the law did no favor Dr. Hawass’ claim (Fluehr-Lobban 142). In this case, the law asserted that the Rosetta Stone was properly acquired and its derivation within Britain’s national collections is past any form of differences.
The issue of repatriation of this artifact is not only based on the trifles of possession. Through the scholarship of the British Museum, the understanding of the Rosetta Stone has been significant to the public. Since the museum’s entire collection is an issue of study and comprehensive scrutiny, one has a source for inquiry that is superior to the sum of its facets. These are home to a procedure of scholarship, debate and peer review that aids in breathing life into these inert things (Potts 11). It is presumed that Egypt had consented to the legitimacy of British proprietorship of the artifact. However, at a summit of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin, Dr. Hawass requested for the repatriation of principal artifacts from around the globe including the Rosetta Stone. In 2007, Dr. Hawass made auxiliary representation to the British Museum for its repatriation, be it provisional or permanent, for the scheduled opening of the novel Grand Museum in Gizeh, Egypt, in 2012 (Connolly 126).
Pros of the Repatriation of Historical Artifacts to the Countries of Origin
One can only get to appreciate historical artifacts in their places of origin. For example, the Elgin Marbles which is currently accommodated in the British Museum. Initially, the Elgin Marbles was a facet of the Parthenon in Athens Greece, and it is only on viewing the place that tourists can actually appreciate the envisioned impression of the monuments. When a visitor views them in the museum, they simply appear to be detached fragments that are exposed of their significance by the loss of their physical and historical perspective. Furthermore, many individuals from the artifacts place of origin do not get to view them since most of them cannot travel to foreign museums such as the British Museum. The historical artifacts like the Rosetta Stone represent their country of origin, cultural history, and national identity; hence, proving to be vital that the local community is awarded the chance to view them (Silverman 51).
The final advantage of repatriating historical artifacts to their region of origin is that it acts as a potential source of cultural and historical tourism. The aforementioned activity would be a source of income for that country. Due to the mere fact that foreign museums in wealthy nations house these artifacts, the nations that are the places of origin of these artifacts are being deprived of the economic opportunity presented by cultural and historical tourism.
Cons of the Repatriation of Historical Artifacts to the Countries of Origin
In spite of the presence of contemporary transport links and technology, moving historical artifacts from a foreign museum back to its place of origin proves to be a delicate and hard task. The potential peril of damage being occasioned to the artifacts is inevitable, not to mention the likelihood of larceny while being transported. Additionally, the places of origin of the artifacts may lack the required resources or space suitable for the housing of the artifacts. When one evaluates all the environmental and financial impacts of moving these artifacts, it is evident that moving them around the globe is not a practical notion. Moreover, artifacts possess a symbolic and historic connotation that surpasses their origins; over the decades, the artifacts obtain a correlation with the place they are held, museums.
Countries of origin should not be permitted to exercise monopoly over their own historical artifacts. This is because these artifacts are part of the world’s mutual history and should be exposed to any individual who is engrossed with what they depict. Due to the aforementioned fact, the artifacts ought to be unveiled in places that get a high number of tourists and are best reachable to individuals of all nationalities. Loftier organizations are the most appropriate housing for these historical artifacts, principally since some United Kingdom museums are buttressed by peripheral backing; hence, they do not have to charge fees to view the exhibitions.
Connolly, Peggy. Ethics in Action: A Case-Based Approach. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology: Dialogue for Ethically Conscious Practice. Walnut Creek [u.a.: AltaMira Press, 2002.
Potts, Daniel T. A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Silverman, Helaine. Contested Cultural Heritage: Religion, Nationalism, Erasure, and Exclusion in a Global World. New York: Springer, 2011.
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