Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

The Pillaging of Cultural Patrimony: Who Does Art Belong To?

This week, the British Museum announced that it would return eight looted artifacts of antiquity to Iraq’s National Museum. These objects, including a 4,000 year old clay-fired cone inscribed in cuneiform, were illegally taken from the country following the US-led Iraq invasion in 2003. While thousands of priceless objects of Mesopotamian cultural heritage remain missing, the return of these eight signal a positive “win” for cultural materials often subject to global discussions concerning repatriation and restitution.

The debate is complicated, involving questionable permits, unethical archaeological practices, colonial coercion tactics, nation-state laws, and of course, money. Is there ever truly an owner when it comes to great art and if so, who would it be? The one who created it, the one who bought it, the one who found it, or the one who restored it? These imperative questions are just some of many involving issues of repatriation and restitution of cultural materials in museums around the world. From the Bust of Queen Nefertiti (originally from Egypt but currently on display in Berlin) to the thousands of artworks looted under the Third Reich, the controversies surrounding these cultural materials are complex, emotional, and anything but straightforward.

The Elgin Marbles often receive the most public attention in repatriation conversations, probably because museums fear the Marbles’ return to Athens could set the stage for countless other cultural objects to be repatriated too. With an impressive archaeological museum right down the hill from the Acropolis, as well as the equipment, teams, space, and funding available to properly care for and display the Parthenon sculptures, I am in favor of their repatriation. However, many fear that returning a culture’s heritage back to its country of origin possibly means putting the objects at risk of iconoclasm or destruction.

For instance, the Antalya Museum in Turkey has been attempting unsuccessfully to ensure the return of the Sion Treasure, a precious set of silver and gold liturgical objects from Byzantium, currently on display at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. The Turkish government has argued the patens, crosses, and candlesticks in the collection are their rightful property, and that they should be returned. Similar to the Elgin Marbles, their legal acquisition into an American museum provokes further scrutiny. The silver was first discovered buried on a hillside in Kumluca, in southwestern Turkey, where it may have been hidden for protection in response to Arab raids. Due to unauthorized excavations and black market traders, the objects eventually found their way onto American ground illegally.

Despite this, many art historians and museum professionals argue the Sion Treasure should stay in D.C. Dumbarton Oaks spent thousands of dollars restoring the flattened and shattered pieces of the set, the condition in which they arrived at the Museum. There it was lovingly restored to its original brilliance and luster, safeguarded and protected, and displayed for the thousands of tourists who have visited this museum each year.

Should cultural objects reside in a place that is most accessible to the public? The past belongs to all of humanity; is it our right to be able to see and enjoy art objects in the place that is most safe? (Antalya is close to Syria, where a significant amount of art objects have already been lost due to deliberate demolition.) As the cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah has stated, the “rule should be one that protects the object and makes it available to people who will benefit from experiencing it.”[1] When it comes to displaying antiquities with a contentious provenance, does it come down to the “greater good?”

What are your thoughts?

[1] Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Whose Culture is it?,” 4, (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2006/02/09/whose-culture-is-it/).

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for the week of August 13th!

Northeast

Associate Curator of Education and Experience [Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA]

Museum Educator [USS Constitution Museum, Boston, MA]

Public Art Curator [Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, Arlington, MA]

Development Assistant [JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA]

Assistant Education Director [Museum Institute for Teaching Science, Quincy, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Curatorial Research Assistant (American Art) [Cooper Hewitt, New York, NY]

Development Coordinator [American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD]

Assistant Manager, Membership [Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY]

Southeast

Collections Manager [Marco Island Historical Society, Marco Island, FL]

Collections Manager/Registrar [Appalachian State University, Boone, NC]

Assistant Registrar [The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA]

Midwest

Interpretations Coordinator [Mackinack State Historic Parks, Mackinaw City, MI]

Director, Education and Community Engagement [Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN]

Site Manager [Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, Rockport, TX]

Managing Archivist [Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX]

West

Development Manager [Pasadena Museum of History, Pasadena, CA]

Manager of Docent Programs [Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA]

Registrar [Center for Sacramento History, Sacramento, CA]

Curatorial Support Group Administration [Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA]

Director of Decolonizing Initiatives [San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego, CA]

Assistant Curator [Tucson Museum of Art, AZ]

Exhibit Projects Manager [California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA]

Teens Programs Teach Us What Kids Can Handle

I recently had the pleasure of going on a tour of the New-York Historical Society‘s special exhibit on Citizenship, entirely curated and presented by Teen Leaders. The exhibit is located on Governor’s Island, a park in New York Harbor that hosts a variety of art installations, food trucks, performances, and other events and activities. A decommissioned military base, exhibits are hosted in the homes of former military officers, making for an interesting backdrop for an exhibit on citizenship.

The Teen Leaders are part of a multi-year Student Historian Internship program at the museum. After completing a summer as a Student Historian, returning students can become Student Curators or Educators. Using New-York Historical’s collection as the basis for their research, last year’s crop of curators created a survey of US history through the lens of citizenship – who has it, who determines eligibility, and how those questions have shaped the United States of America.

The exhibit moves through ideas about who was originally granted citizenship, when different groups of people agitated for full citizen rights, and moments when factions took action to rescind rights from certain groups. The exhibit does not shy away from discussing complicated moments from the United States’ past, and takes care to include a wide representation of “Americans”. Native American citizenship is covered, as well as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Sedition Act, and the 14th and 19th Amendments.

 

Once the objects are selected (and reproduced), labels written, and the exhibit is hung, a second group of Teen Leaders focusing on Education arrive for the summer. These teens take the curators’ work and develop interpretive content for the exhibit that they lead families in all summer, including theatrical presentations and hands-on activities. It was these students that we interacted with as we went through the exhibit, and their enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity was equally on display.

The Teen Educators led us in activities that asked us to engage with the material presented. We created scrapbooks about rights and responsibilities of citizens; connected new images of America to parts of the exhibition; read and responded to quotations about education in America; created flags that represented our own personal identities and values; and even watched an interactive theatrical performance featuring historical figures. The creativity and variety of the activities really encouraged audiences to think deeply about the topics covered, but also contained enough variety to be appropriate for every age range.

What struck me most as I read the labels and played the games was how well these Teen Leaders grasped the importance of their subject. These students have not shied away from the complicated history of who gets to be an American, and done it deftly with fewer than fifty images, highlighting people and events that challenged or upheld the status quo. It was a welcome reminder that teenagers are ready to work with difficult concepts, whether in the classroom or in an informal learning environment. As emerging museum professionals we should keep their abilities in mind as we plan their field trips and learning experiences.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for the week of August 5th!

Northeast

Director of Education [New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, MA]

Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA]

Site Manager [Historic New England, Boston, MA]

Assistant Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator of Collections [Davis Museum, Wellesley, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Interpretive Program Manager [First State Heritage Park, Dover, DE]

Visitor Services Specialist [Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA]

Exhibition Graphic Design Manager [Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD]

Associate Registrar for Exhibitions [New-York Historical Society, New York, NY]

Southeast

Executive Director [Historic Westville, Columbus, GA]

Collection Manager [Marco Island Historical Society, Marco Island, FL] 

Collections Manager/Registrar [Appalachian State University, Boone, NC]

Assistant Registrar [The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA]

Midwest

Exhibitions Coordinator/Registrar [Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, MO]

Assistant Curator of Photography [Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH]

Painting Conservator [Indiana University, Bloomington, IN]

Assistant Curator of European Art [Joslyn Museum of Art, Omaha, NE]

West

Associate Director of Education and Interpretation [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA]

Manager of Family and Early Learning Programs [Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX]

Museum Development Coordinator [Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, CO]

Curator [The Bryan Museum, Galveston, TX]

Job Posting – Cataloging Assistant

The Warren Anatomical Museum seeks a Cataloging Assistant:

Institution: Warren Anatomical Museum, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Address: 10 Shattuck Street, Boston, MA 02115

Duration: Six months with optional renewal, starting August 20, 2018

Reports To: Curator, Warren Anatomical Museum

Hours: 17 hours per week

Wage: $15 per hour

Description: The Warren Anatomical Museum in the Center for the History of Medicine is seeking a cataloging assistant to support its curatorial and collections management activities. Under the supervision of the museum curator, the cataloging assistant will primarily be responsible for researching and inventorying the Museum’s legacy collections, entering these artifacts into its TMS database, and creating object records for these holdings in the Center for the History of Medicine’s Omeka web publishing platform, OnView. Additional tasks may include assisting the curator with inventorying newly acquired collections prior to accessioning, and providing TMS data entry support for the Museum’s wet tissue cataloging project.

Qualifications: Applicant must have a Bachelor’s degree, and must have achieved or be pursuing a Master’s degree in museum studies/museology or a related field. Demonstrated attention to detail and the ability to work independently is essential. The applicant should be Microsoft Word, Excel, and Access proficient. Previous museum experience and library and archival research skills preferred.

To apply: Send a letter of interest and resume to the Center for the History of Medicine at chm@hms.harvard.edu with the subject: Warren Anatomical Museum Cataloging Assistant

 

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