Skip navigation

College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

Ellingen Stash Native American bowl

Center for Art Collection Ethics


Elgin Marbles at British Museum
June 5, 2018

Corbyn would return Elgin Marbles to Greece

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has stepped into the debate over the Elgin Marbles held at the British Museum, vowing to return them to Greece if he became prime minister. Created in the 5th century BCE, the sculptures were removed from the Acropolis in the early 1800s by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador at the time, and have been held by the British Museum since 1816. The Greek government has repeatedly issued repatriation claims since the early 1980s and the case has become a symbol of international cultural property disputes. Corbyn reportedly told the Greek newspaper Ta Nea that Britain “should be in constructive talks with the Greek government about returning the sculptures.” Even as prime minister he would face challenges pursuing that objective, as the trustees of the British Museum argue that the sculptures “are everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries.” The sculptures likely will remain in the museum for at least the foreseeable future, regardless of Corbyn’s political fortunes.


Photo Credit: One of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, which has faced requests from Greece for their return  (Getty). Retrieved from

Turkish Mosaic
May 29, 2018

Universities, art and ethics

After several years of negotiations, Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio has reached an agreement with Turkish officials to repatriate twelve ancient mosaic pieces.  The antiquities were looted from the ancient city of Zeugma in southern Turkey in the early 1960s and purchased by the University in 1965. More than fifty years later, the University carried out provenance research in preparation for a symposium featuring the pieces, and in February 2012 publicly recognized the illicit transaction. The University initiated talks with Turkey, but according to an internal Turkish government report shown to Al Jazeera in February 2013, BGSU asked Turkey to create a scholarship fund to send twenty Turkish students to the University within a broader repatriation deal. The Turkish government declined.

More than five years later, BGSU finally has reached a more ethical agreement with Turkish officials. Colleges and universities have a special moral responsibility to address reasonable claims, carry out the necessary provenance research, and when that research reveals a history of plunder, reach a just settlement with claimants.


Photo Credit: The "Gypsy Girl" awaits the return of looted mosaics to Turkey. From

Macron and Talon
May 1, 2018

A shift in attitudes toward colonial heritage?

The issue of colonial heritage is part of our current cultural zeitgeist, with increased public awareness of the ethical dimensions of cultural property disputes. In Berlin, a massive museum project is merging collections of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art to create the Humboldt Forum, scheduled to open in 2019. Renowned art historian Bénédicte Savoy resigned from the project’s board of experts in July 2017 due to a lack of provenance research on sensitive objects, especially those emanating from Germany’s former African colonies. As Savoy wrote in an opinion piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “I want to know how much blood is dripping from each artwork.” (cited in English by here) She is now advising French president Emmanuel Macron, who shocked the museum world last fall by proclaiming that “African heritage cannot be a prisoner of European museums.” As I mentioned in comments for the following article in The Christian Science Monitor, we may be seeing a generational shift in attitudes toward colonial heritage among key political and cultural figures. Deaccession from public collections is a very tricky business, however, and at this point it seems more likely that countries will reach agreements on temporary loans rather than full restitution. But watch this space.

Photo Credit: French President Emmanuel Macron and President Patrice Talon of Benin hold a joint press conference after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, March 5, 2018. From