The Problem with Museums

The Problem with Museums

So if you’re a big ole history nerd like
me then you probably remember the scene in Black Panther when Killmonger is standing
in a museum with a particularly smug docent who’s explaining to him the origins of various
African tribal masks. Killmonger’s response is to ask the docent
how much she thinks the people who placed these artifacts in the museum paid for them
and if she thinks “they paid a fair price?” Then you know…the docent dies from poisoning
and Killmonger and his crew pull off a truly diabolical and thoroughly flawless museum
heist where they recapture the missing Vibranium, murder a bunch of guards and run off in a
decoy ambulance. Now, putting aside the fact that this is an
example from the Marvel Universe and not…well this universe, this scene got me wondering:
what are the ethics of museum collections? And if museums founded decades or even centuries
ago acquired their collections through either out right shady or less than honorable means,
do they have a moral responsibility to return those stolen objects today? So for this episode of Origin let’s dive
into the politics of museum collections and how these beloved institutions ended up enmeshed
in some sticky ethical questions. So we should first spend some time talking
about the history of museums as in where they come from and what their purposes are. Museums have a long and storied history that
stretches back over 2,500 years. Some of the first ones sprung up in ancient
Greece and Babylon, but these early museums often housed royal collections and royal zoos
that weren’t opened to the public. The first official public museum came into
being in 1471 and was opened under Pope Sixtus IV when he donated a group of statues to the
people of Rome. Although these early institutions were technically
museums (I mean they housed collections of rare and valuable objects for display) they
weren’t the large public museums that we’ve come to know today. Those institutions didn’t come into being
until the 18th and 19th centuries. Early modern museums were meant as public
institutions to document the history of mankind in the Arts and Sciences. However they had a less than auspicious start. One of the first American museums was built
in Philadelphia in 1786 by Charles Willson Peale. Peale’s collection included portraits he
painted of George Washington, other art, and a mastodon skeleton he later unearthed…a
rather odd collection to say the very least. This brings us to a man who was better known
for his work under the big top, PT Barnum. In the 1840s he bought the collections from
Peale’s Museum and also curated The American Museum that toed the line between education
and freak shows, opening their doors to paying customers interested in seeing an array of
human “oddities.” Performers like Joice Heth (billed fictitiously
as George Washington’s hundred plus year old nursemaid) and Commodore Nutt (a little
person who traveled the country in Barnum’s displays) were a large component of Barnum’s
museums. Museums during this time period featured a
balance of entertainment and “scientific-y” cataloguing. But the US saw a big shift in museum culture
when in the 19th century an English philanthropist by the name of James Smithson granted money
for an “establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” And if you haven’t guessed from the name
already, that’s how the Smithsonian Institution came into being. Staffed by actual scientists, this museum
had a different scope and mission than its predecessors. Meanwhile, also in the 18th and 19th centuries,
European public museums were flourishing. Like the National Museum of Natural History
in France which opened in 1635 and was restructured in 1793. Or the British Museum, which was founded in
1753. But what made these new scientific museums
start to spread like wildfire? Well, keep in mind that the world was deep
in the midst of two significant phenomena: European imperial expansion and the Enlightenment
period. From these early days, the modern museum was
a site to collect, catalog, and organize the story of the world through the lens of European
expansion. As a result many museums focused their collections
on items that were brought in from around the world under dubious or outright immoral
circumstances. Today questions remain about the right to
ownership since many of those objects are still in the hands of museums and not in the
locations they originated from. For example: if something was stolen, wrongfully
taken, or unethically displayed in the 19th century should it still be owned and shown
in museums today? In order to illuminate this question I’m going
to tell you two stories, both ending in complex debates involving bodily remains that ended
up in museums. But how they got there and why they were kept
on display for so long is extremely relevant to the ethical dilemmas that museums face
today. One of the major cons of many museums is the
ethics of how they obtained their collections. And although we most often think museums just
contain pieces of art, scientific specimens, and historical paraphernalia, they actually
often house sensitive or even sacred items that were acquired during the 18th and 19th
centuries. The older a museum is and the more storied
the collection, often times the more challenging the history of how those items came to be
in the museum in the first place. Which brings us to Saartjie Baartman. Born in present-day South Africa in the late
eighteenth Century, Bartman spent the majority of her adult life touring Europe as a medical
sideshow and as a freak show performer. Her body was the subject of many medical examinations
and scientific explorations, in large part because it was believed that her genitals
and backside were exceptionally different from those of European women. She died in 1815 from causes that were likely
a combination of poor treatment, poor health, and suspected alcoholism due to her years
in captivity. Then, Baartman’s body became the subject of
an autopsy by a French scientist by the name of Georges Cuvier, who was determined to use
her body to discover missing links between the animal kingdom and the human world. He had a relationship with the French Museum
of Natural History, so after the autopsy was completed her bodily remains and a plaster
cast of her corpse remained in the museum until 2002. Cuvier went on to great success as a scientist;
and he’s often considered one of the founding fathers of modern paleontology and biology. However the Legacy of Baartman’s body and
how it became an object in a French Museum continued to cause ongoing political strife
and scandal. Beginning in the 1970s South African activists
and supporters of the anti-apartheid movement began to petition the French Museum to return
Baartman’s body to her native South Africa. But as scholar Christina Sharpe notes in her
work, Baartman never technically lived in South Africa because it did not become a nation
until after her death. Therefore those who were resistant to returning
her corpse to South Africa could (in some ways rightly, in other ways incorrectly) point
to the fact that South Africa as a nation did not have a greater claim her remains then
France’s Natural History Museum. Additionally Baartman was a paid performer
during her lifetime, even though she was unfairly treated and poorly compensated. It’s impossible to determine what her final
wishes for her remains would be. Our second story involving human remains is
that of Chang and Eng Bunker, known throughout the world as the original Siamese twins, whose
bodies are now buried in North Carolina with a plaster cast of their conjoined torsos on
display in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. The Mutter was founded in 1863 as a teaching
museum for physicians and in the 20th century opened its doors to the general public. The collection of the Mutter Museum is unusual
in that many things within its walls are comprised of human remains, primarily because it was
a place to train physicians in anatomy and physiology. I’ve actually visited The Mutter before and
it’s truly gruesome in some aspects. You can walk around and see jars of human
skin, a tumor from Grover Cleveland’s jaw, and even babies preserved in jars. Chang and Eng Bunker, similar to Baartman,
spent their lives as medical anomalies and sideshow performers. They were born in Siam, or present-day Thailand,
in 1811 and when they died in 1874 medical doctors were eager to seize control of their
bodies. Since the brothers had a number of children
as well as two wives, doctors were not able to keep the entirety of their remains. The Mutter Museum’s display is a plaster
cast of the Bunkers conjoined torsos and a jar containing their conjoined livers. Although there is evidence to support that
the family consented to an autopsy after the twins died, a letter that I uncovered in the
archival collections at UNC Chapel Hill suggests that there was some hesitancy to have the
bodies displayed in a museum permanently. The letter was written by one of Chang’s
sons and one of Eng’s. Addressed to the physician who performed the
autopsy, it notes: “Sir enclosed you will find the receipt
for bringing the bodies of Papa and Uncle from Salem[…]My mother and Aunt was very
sorry that we did not bring the lungs and entrails of our fathers with the bodies home,
and as we did not bring them, you can keep them, until further orders from the families. Respectfully, CW and JD Bunker.” Basically what their sons were saying is that
when they went to collect their father’s bodies they were surprised the physicians
kept pieces of them. Clearly the family’s reticence to have their
fathers’ and husbands’ bodies displayed forever in a museum is evidenced by the fact
that they mention the missing body parts and their not-too-subtle comments around who should
keep them. However unlike Baartman’s body which was repatriated
to South Africa in 2002, the Bunkers’ livers and plaster cast remain on display in Philadelphia,
presenting an ongoing critical dilemma. Because even though limited consent was, at
some point, given by family members, could they have known that their loved ones bodies
would be included as part of the permanent collection of the museum? And in fact that those body parts would be
billed as one of the museum’s biggest attractions to this day? But just like Baartman’s return to South
Africa presented a legal puzzle since her body predates the founding of the nation,
the Bunkers’ bodies also present a legal quandary because none of their immediate family
members are alive today (although they have a sizeable number of descendants). So what should become of their bodily remains? Should they be kept in the museum on display? Or should they be returned to their resting
place in North Carolina? Or alternatively should the museum keep them
but not display them? Now we’re not always dealing with human remains
in museums. But historical artifacts have been at the
center of similar debates. There’s often a slippery slope between knowledge
dissemination and individual or community rights. What if, for example, a sacred object was
placed in the museum decades or hundreds of years ago? Should it be returned to descendants of that
religious faith today? Or say a family object was stolen and placed
in a museum. Do the descendants of the original owner have
a claim to have that item? In my own personal view of the debate, there
are three major camps: The first contends that any items or objects
taken unethically or under duress, should be immediately returned to the communities
from which they were taken or to the direct descendants of that community. The second camp argues that because of the
passage of time, there’s no consistent or clear line of ownership, so the objects should
remain in museums where they can be preserved and cared for. This group would also argue for the public
good that museums represent, because having items in a collection means that everyone
can view them and learn from them. The final camp would try to strike some compromise
between the two, with museums working together with activists, descendants, and communities
to create displays that honor the items in their care. Scholar James Clifford theorizes that museums
aren’t just passive collections entrapped by Imperial gazes, but rather he borrows the
concept of “contact zones” or places where varying cultures and identities come into
close (if fraught) proximity. He notes as an example the challenges of displaying
Indigenous Tlingit art in the Portland Museum of Art. Activists and elders worked in collaboration
with museum curators to speak about the significance of the items on display, many of which held
rich oral histories or narratives, but were just being displayed as static art objects
hung up on the wall. Although the final conclusion of Clifford’s
story didn’t lead to immediate changes, this incident did open up a new conversation
about how items that aren’t immediately repatriated can be repurposed by making museums
more interactive spaces that take on the needs of the communities they serve. But even with this optimistic view of museums
and their intended purposes, the ethics of the objects that remain there are still unclear. So, I’m not saying that you should pull a
full Killmonger and poison a museum worker. AT ALL. Like, don’t do that. And I know that bringing up these questions
with an audience that is, presumably very pro museum can be challenging. Because in many ways, when done correctly,
museums can be great spaces for the dissemination of free knowledge, serve as important supplements
to the educational agendas of teachers and also provide valuable community resources
such as free programming and outreach to various populations. And if you’ve ever even spent a cursory
amount of time scrolling through our community tab or my instagram you’ll see that I like
museums. I mean…I really love museums. A lot. But that doesn’t negate the serious conversations
we have to have and potential actions we have to take to correct historical wrongdoing when
we’re confronted with it, even if it’s within the walls of some of our most beloved
institutions. If the original purpose and functions of museums
was to disseminate knowledge, entertain, and preserve artifacts related to the human story,
then we must also critically ask the question: who is it all for? Because if something has been wrongfully,
cloudily, or unethically collected then in some ways it actually functions as antithetical to the museum’s intended missions.

100 Replies to “The Problem with Museums

  1. As someone who works for a very big European museum, the ethics of our collections is a subject that is discussed a lot, deciding to be transparent about the origins and way of acquisition. The decision to give an object back doesn't fall on the museum itself though. Even if the museum would be willing to give it back there are sometimes legal obstacles that only a government ordinance can surmount. And we know how governments are…

  2. I loved that scene in Black Panther. It had me wondering the exact same thing – I'm sure all of this is no accident. It was brilliant.

  3. At this stage in technology, it's childish not to simply make replicas for display and return originals to their proper places. It's not like a lay person would even notice, I don't think most people walk into a museum of natural history and think "these skeletons look /almost/ real". Anyone who did notice, would undoubtedly also know why and equally should be unbothered.

  4. Whole, vast territories have been stolen too. May I mention the archipelago of Hawaii, and more recently the historic area of Tibet? I collect African art, and most of my acquisitions have a provenance dating prior to 1940. The context is missing, forever, except where there are anthropological investigations. The Belgians were in the present day DRC, the Portuguese in Angola, and the French in other parts of Africa. Many of the colonists bought older wood and metal objects. The majority of these objects have lost their intrinsic cultural information. The village where they were made, or danced are, in many cases, no longer in existence. The costumes, which were worn with the masks are usually missing. The descriptions of the dances performed, and the surrounding history and meaning are long gone. ,(except in cases where the traditions are still alive, or where anthropologists have observed and recorded them). I think I am a good caretaker, but I perfectly understand the desire for countries or cultural groups to have their cultural objects returned too. I think the debate should continue.

  5. Throwback to when Beyonce and Jay Z locked down the whole Louvre just to sing about how there was a lack of black culture in an European museum.
    Literally what do you fucking want? Can’t you decide if you want your own museums or your culture shown more in European ones?
    Ubicaros de una vez coño jajajaja.

  6. I think second or third camp make the most sense. This discussion doesn't stop at just Museums. There are whole cities that's were created by other nations that were taken away from them by invasion. The most famous will be the Greek Constantinople which is now Turkish and known as Instabul. Humanity did fucked up things, trying to undo or fix actions from long dead people is unrealistic.

  7. Maybe a fourth option, not give any on the artwork back but give monetary compensation for the artworks instead. I mean majority of the countries asking for the artworks back, are third world countries, they probably need money more than art.

  8. Another interesting case is Montezuma’s headdress that is currently stuck in Vienna. I hope one day they can bring it back to El Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico.

  9. Yes it is a disgusting crime when things are stolen and destroyed, but so long as they're in a museum they are usefull to education, no matter where they are
    all private collections should be given back though

  10. Can we also discuss the role of security at museums? I can't tell you how many times they've unfairly singled me out for profiling compared to white patrons. One even followed me far beyond his base exhibit half way through the museum!

    I hate going to museums because of security.

  11. This is a good discussion to have, but let's also be clear on the fact that this discussion should really only be about certain kinds of museums. Contemporary art museums, archaeological museums housing locally found objects, museums about themes (for example literary museum, taxation museum, military museum, museums of physics), museums around specific famous people, museums about the history of a city… Museums come in all shapes and sizes and quite a few of them have no issues around historical objects (or remains) obtained from elsewhere.

    And one other note: it is usually problematic to find the "right" descendants to give things back to if the dubious (or clearly wrong) transactions have taken place a long time ago and I personally don't see any great value in trying to give a piece of indigenous art back to hundreds of individuals to share. But I do think that in cases where it seems like the good of having it on display is probably greater than trying to set up a time share system for locals with ancient family ties – the display should be where those people can see it. So I think the British Museum has a duty to try to house the Rosetta Stone somewhere in Egypt and the Pushkin Museum should return Priam's treasure not to Germany, but to Turkey and help make sure that the artifact can be stored and displayed there in a way that maintains its integrity. Provided the area is not currently a war zone, flooded or otherwise a highly unlikely place for the item to survive. Because as much as I like going to European and American art museums, it is not fair that to see these items the people who have the most original connection to them would have to travel further than the people who have more of a connection to the people who took them, even if the blame of that transaction does not fall on current European and American shoulders.

  12. Awareness of cultural, archaeological and historical value is a European invention. They saw the importance of securing it and displaying it for posterity. If that had not happened, it would have been looted or lost as in Syria. It has not been stolen, it has been secured. An example is the Greek temple of Pergamon in Turkey. Archaeologically excavated by German archaeologists and can now be seen in Berlin. The Turks plundered and burned the marble Greek and Roman sculptures to make lime.

  13. I live in the UK – and I didn’t realise that a LOT of the collections in our museums came from downright pilfering when it went through its emo imperialist phase… i didn’t really think about it much, because I only really hanged around the Natural History Museum – and we couldn’t really conquer an archaeopteryx

  14. I’m thinking of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, I can only assume that many of the artefacts there were not taken ethically – there are shrunken heads etc. Which I really doubt were freely given – I love museums and Pitt Rivers is filled with so many interesting things but you’re right, we have to be aware and do the right thing

  15. This is really neat, someone i am acquainted with has talked about this at length on her tumblr (the post in particular is relevant here) I think she works at the Smithsonian and is very involved and knowledgeable and very willing to share her knowledge about the repatriation of artifacts

  16. Righting historical wrongs? That's a very tall order. How about we appreciate it's history, to include how it was obtained why it is problematic and move on? If righting historical wrongs is the goal I gotta say you're in for a world of disappointment.

  17. This is where I believe modern technological advancements can make repatriation of museum artifacts possible. Making 3D models of artifacts and placing them into the public domain will definitely increase access. Especially for people who live very far from large cities where all the museums are.

  18. While we're at it, can we also discuss how we keep animals in captivity in zoos just so we can walk around and see them at our leisure? Obviously not the same as putting a person's dead body on display, but still something to think about

  19. Artifacts should definitely belong to museums in the countries where they originated. I understand sometimes there is a concern about safety/stability in the country, like I don't think anybody wants to put artifacts in Iraq or Syria right now, but for countries like Nigeria, nobody would steal the Benin artifacts I don't think. There needs to be better international cooperation anyways so that if artifacts are at risk, they can temporarily be moved to a neighboring country where they can be kept safe until being repatriated. Notice the difference between that and having the material heritage of the third world forever reside in white countries.

    Another related point I think needs a lot of attention is UNESCO. They are really biased towards those same white countries. Just google a map of UNESCO sites in the world and you'll see. For example,

    Egypt has 7 sites
    Tunisia has 8
    Vietnam has 8
    Sri Lanka has 8
    Indonesia has 9
    Ethiopia has 9
    Iraq has 6
    Sudan has 3
    Afghanistan has 2
    Myanmar has 2
    Pakistan has 6

    While on the other hand

    Spain has 48
    France has 45
    Germany has 46
    UK has 32
    US has 24
    Italy has 55
    smaller Euro countries and Canada tend to have around 10-20 each

    That is absolutely ridiculous when you consider the history of the top set of countries. Y'all fr have no idea that sheer amount of history that some of those places have known. I'm not trying to put down the European cultures, because I love them too, everybody's culture and history has value and deserves to be celebrated, but they deserve to be celebrated equitably and accurately. I love Europe but I also love Latin America and pre-columbian america, sub-saharan Africa, MENA, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and everywhere in between, and tbh I get sick of seeing how people focus on just Europe.

    You'll also notice that many of the top set of countries are experiencing or have experienced tragic circumstances. A lot of the historical sites that aren't UNESCO-verified are at risk due to warfare, environmental degradation, neglect, looting, construction (stealing parts of the old buildings to build something today), or even purposeful destruction. This is a destructive cycle.

  20. Hoho, it depends the place i guess. I don't mind the dutch keeping our artefacts, bcs our collection preservation is not as advance and im on a tropical country.

  21. A lot of comments keep citing Islamic destruction of artifacts, but please remember that all 3 Abrahamic faiths have supported the destruction of religious artifacts because all 3 are against idolatry.

    Also, many cultures have destroyed the artifacts of those they have conqured, which is inexcusable in all cases, and very unjustified.

  22. How you managed to cram all that information, all the issues, and well "everything" in a few short minutes I will stand in awe of. That said, thank you for this, and also the Penn Museum reopened with its large Meso-American and African collections, and has been directly addressing these issues of provenance and ethics.

  23. I think all collections should be kept in their country of origin if they aren’t at direct risk by being there. Then countries can loan them out to share the knowledge with other countries

  24. Should we return Egyptian mummys to their families?…
    Its important to explore the poor ethical decisions of past generations, but to infer that today we should
    remain wounded from these events is silly.

  25. After some thinking I had an Idea

    What if there was an international organization of museums who could trade artifacts perhaps a biannual rotation of different artifacts to different parts of the world so that everyone could have equal access to the history of humanity

    I imagine kids in China could see artifacts from Greece and Africa
    And kids in South Africa could see artifacts from Europe and India
    Kids in Mexico could see rifles from the American civil war and vases from ancient China

    Obviously there are a lot of problems with this solution but a global cooperation effort to share the history of humanity could lead the better understanding and allow for everyone to have access to our history as a species

  26. lol museums are there to learn from, if you think information, education and curiosity are "unethical" you're going backwards moron.

  27. Dr. Luke is having a fun time right now hearing his sky cameras working that's how woman rape works for now to his timelines or Gantt charts that is the secret eye in that robot movie called I, Robot.

  28. The first priority should be maintaining the objects. The British acquired a lot of Greek artifacts and basically found them in garbage piles. Greece was war torn at the time so I’m glad the brits could salvage what they could. However artifacts of foreign countries should be considered on loan until said country has competent facilities. Also museums should be inclusive to all economic backgrounds with free days during the week.

  29. Black people doing their regular routine of coming up with even more reasons to keep racism alive and heated. I swear you guys could find racism in a kids cartoon if you wanted to

  30. I think it depends on the object. Things should be returned if the place of origin has a museum that can properly conserve objects. And human remains and significant religious objects/attire should always be returned. It also depends on the history of the origin place and current holder of the objects, like if we KNOW it was stolen, give it back, if we are sure it was a gift or was purchased rightfully, keep it.
    In general i think museums just need to be more open to giving objects back, I'd rather go to Egypt to see mummies, and often collections go on tour around the world anyway.

  31. I love your hair. Also, I think some museums are well done but most are not. If you are looking for knowledge you should research about the museums before visiting because some are not well put together and the management doesn't have anything to teach. Make sure you go to a museum that has a professional curator and is being well kept by professionals.

  32. Where is this coming from? Please let me know. I know the UK refusing to give back artifacts was a political issue between contries. However the amount history museums dedicated to that nations history are more numerous.

  33. i personally think things that belong to certain countries or cultures should be held in museums belonging to that country or culture. loans are fine, but stop stealing valuable items. british museum, i’m looking at you.

  34. So I go to uni and I have a history of art teacher who is also a new curator for a museum. We have a lot of South American and Polynesian art there and man he gets very upset and frustrated with how the museum got these pieces. Some are through kind donation through family lines. Some was stuff that was found and not realised the importance of until later, some taken and some straight up stolen. It’s a hard thing cause the museums had some of this stuff for years but the question is should it be returned?

    So my teacher reaches out to the original owners of the art or the region of where it’s from and Most of the time he wants to return it to its rightful place but other times the people the artwork originated from say they don’t particularly care cause it wasn’t an object that was deemed important in the first place and other times they say they want it displayed as it shows their ancestors creative skill to outside societies

    So normally his go to is, if a piece goes into exhibition he’s just straight up says in the description how it how it got there. Cause he can’t undo the past, but we should definitely not ignore the sins and ignorance of our ancestors.

  35. Personally I don't think museums should have to give the artifacts back because it's not about holding onto rare and expensive artifacts it's about teaching thoughts who want to know history and origins of historical artifacts which is a more important than giving some group of people a statue that won't be shared with the public

  36. i know history of colonialism is interesting…but to me its just depressing. even more depressing when people outright deny its truth because they dont agree with it or because its different from what they were "originally taught". people literally killed others and stole their most precious cultural artifacts then thousands of years later told them they have no right to take it back. "life isnt fair" more like "certain groups of people have had a track record of thievery and savagery"

  37. What you can do is go to these countries, look at the history in its whole not an artifact here and a room there. The totality and authenticity of the experience is un parallel. Come see the magnificent pyramids, the magic of the temples and how its beauty hugs the Nile 😍💙

  38. Museums are ethical only when they display a country's own history or pieces donated by other countries. They are unethical when they display pieces taken through plunder or the black market.

  39. I think that a multi-part system, can help to correct a lot of these ethics problems with museums. Many of these will need to be done by each museum, in a way that best benefits both the museum and the culture they're showing off.

    1: They should trace each piece back to the region of origin. Regardless of which country is currently there, they should go back to the areas that each piece was originally found in. From there they can talk with the locals, including the city, and possibly even national governments, to work out a lease, for holding onto these artifacts. This will allow each museum to keep what they've found, but also allows the community who originally had it to benefit from it as well.

    An extension to this, would be, that as they lease the objects, they could hire people from the region the artifact is in, to help explain the history of the objects to all visitors. As the local people will have a much greater understanding of the objects, they'll be able to explain what it is, why it exists, and what it was used for, improving the overall experience of seeing the objects.

    2: They could outright return the artifacts, but on the contingency that the original area have, or build their own museum to display it, and it's history properly. This will help with each region to rebuild their history and culture and, to show it off to others who visit.

    3: This option is primarily for artifacts found within the borders of the discovering nation. So, if the US finds something within it's own borders, or France discovers something within it's own borders, this would apply. Essentially, the museums would need both an agreement, and a lease in place for various artifacts.

    If a museum has a family heirloom, it can be leased for a maximum of 3 generations. And after it's reached the 3rd generation it must either be returned to the family, or kept without the need for leasing.

    This would allow the original family to regain the object of they so choose. But, it's limited to 3 generations due to multiple members being capable of laying claim to the object in question. Without direct lines to follow, an object being returned to a specific family could easily have 40, 50, or more members attempting to claim it, and this can happen around the 4th generation and onward.

    If the family does not wish to keep the object upon the 3rd generation, then a new contract must be signed stating as much, which would then allow the museum to keep the object in question indefinitely.

    As for such things as keeping a human body, should the family not wish to have the body on display, they, and the museum could agree to have a cast made of the person or persons involved, and simply display the cast, but return the body as necessary. However, if the person, or people, involved, have strictly put it in their will, for any reason, to have their bodies on display, then the family no longer retains the right to ask for it back. The museum may "lease" the person's body from the family, for up to 3 generations, as a payment, and as respect towards the family since they won't be able to retain the person's body due to the legality of the person's will.

    In every instance of museums paying families, and even the originating cultures, they should of course get a legal worker, and establish an account which they should pay into until the contracts are up. This would help to ensure that everyone who needs to be paid will be paid appropriately. All objects retained within the museum will then be taken care of as needed.

    4: If this hasn't been done already, though I think it has been, at least to a point, museums should ensure that all current artifacts being added are obtained through legal and lawful means. Archaeologists, and other discoverers should have an agreement within the are they are searching to buy or lease any objects they find, so as to send them to a museum.

    Each region should go through the list of items that have been found, and determine what, if any, should be sold, should be leased, and should be kept. This can help to reduce any unethical means of obtaining artifacts for museums, and, will also allow the more common objects be sent off without too much trouble. And for the more prized possessions of their cultures, they can simply lease objects out allowing them to profit off of them, and even to use the money to continue funding the research teams.

    Of course with museums buying and leasing artifacts, these funds will go towards whatever groups or governments to help care for the cities and regions these objects originated from.

    I also think that many of the museums, if not the UN as well, should make an organization for helping to maintain the artifacts, and to either return them, or to lease them from the originating cultures. And, for some objects, if at all possible, be allowed to outright buy them. This can help to keep everything ethical, and while it won't necessarily correct the sins of the past, it will certainly go a long way towards fixing them, and show a ton of respect to the people amd culture in each area.

  40. I’m getting a MA in public history this is a huge discussion right now in the field. Making sure things are ethical is something I definitely want practice in my work

  41. Yes, let our museums house only replicas of other nations art and artifacts, and the only originals be our own art and artifacts. THE perfect solution for a STEM obsessed, Instagram loving, literature averse, couch potato nation. 
    Sorry but you won't scrub history clean by posing that every artifact from a formerly poor country/community to have been stolen by a robber baron. Most items you see in any museum have a long list of previous owners, many of the owners having sold the item because of their own fraught financial situation. History is thick. But the day we decide that replicas are good enough, then you can kiss goodbye ALL of our museums, because latest in photo tech will be considered a suitable substitute.

  42. Tend towards being in the Third Camp of Compromise, and also hope that if, say for example one country's museums is in danger of being within a war zone soon and could be destroyed &/or looted, that museums in other countries would step in to house & preserve the artifacts that the endangered museums had in their collection until the region becomes safe for museums again, similar to how zoos coordinate who keeps & cares for the animals of a zoo that is/was in danger of some kind

  43. I feel like if the people who were stolen from and the people who stole are both long gone, such as with artifacts from late 1800s and before, then there's no real reason to move it. As you get more modern where direct descendants or this descendants direct descendants are still alive, only then it is a bit more complicated.

    If anything it's probably better in a museum where people can learn from it and researchers can study it.

  44. I think having replicas of these objects is great but I don’t think the objects should be returned. I think if returned to some countries with particularly corrupt governments, for example some African countries, those relics could easily be lost forever. Some people only care about money. I’d rather them be kept where they are, safe. Not worth the risk

  45. I tend to be very pro-museum. I think there is a difference between returning items stolen from people to those same people or descendants and returning items stolen from people to descendants hundreds of years later who are far less affected or connected to that item. At a certain point, that item stops being a family object when it’s been out of the family for 250 years. If you give that precious and ancient artifact back to the descendant, it is no longer able to be learned from by the greater public and you’re giving it back to someone who wasn’t very connected to it in the first place.

  46. Damn, this got deep. I never had questioned the ethics of museums until I saw that scene. I then proceeded for like the first half of the movie to ponder it. I know some of my naiveness is due to my race, white, which in history is infamous for taking what they want. I've always thought of museums being wonderful institutions where so many people can learn about history (being one who loves history it means all that more.) I was thinking about if museums were to show things that the religion I associate with were to be put on display, I'd be furious. However, my religion also has a museum of its own, although items are shown completely at their own will. There are thousands of museums and millions of objects this could pertain to and there are so many opinions, even from people in the same group/culture/religion, etc.

  47. I think it was a bit remiss not to mention what's going on in the Middle East at the moment. True, loads of artefacts held by museums such as the British Museum were sourced unethically from there, but ISIS is determined to get rid of any remnants of non-Islamic culture there. It's not just about preserving these artefacts, it's about preserving entire cultures at this point. Obviously, it would be better not to have them away from their original cultures, but for now, they really would be destroyed if they were returned.

  48. I Rather my people’s history to be lost in time as it should be a doomed race born on a doomed planet I couldn’t save they called me a mad man but I’m a survivor

  49. There is no correcting historical wrongs. Bad things happened to a lot of people who are no longer alive by people who are no longer alive. All we can do is do better in the present or future. I would say correcting present wrongs is where the focus should be.

  50. So we SHOULDN'T poison museum employees? You should have said that earlier in the video. Oh well, I'll remember it for next time.

  51. Well how about this, should an artifact from say a country like Syria, be returned there? Syria is unstable and the artifact might not b safe there. Don’t u think artifacts should be kept safe


  53. Welcome to postmodernism. Where a bunch of pseudointelectual millennials cry for every single aspect of existence and make of it a valid reason to criticize the western countries but not the rest of the world.

    Just pathetic, Origins of Everything.


  55. The Franklin Institute faked the terra-cotta warriors and China was not happy. I attended this and I thought that these statues where real. Turns out I was wrong

  56. the moment when you go to the British Museum and see huge China plates broken into pieces for transportation. people died making those plates. and the oldest chinese painting damaged beyond repair because the brits didn't know how to preserve Chinese paper. they only display it two months out of twelve I believe. and there I was in a foreign country checking the calendar to see if I can glimpse at a piece of my own culture. while also learning that some British young don't even know about the opium wars.

  57. Imagine having no clue of the world beyond Western countries and thinking other cultures didn't bring back art and other pieces from the countries they invaded or had trade routes with. Cool you think this practice is a Western invention or something, but you clearly have no understanding of history if you actually think that:)

  58. Exhibits. Moving museums that belong and return to their home countries. China rents out pandas, countries can rent out artifacts and have their own teams care for them on the road. If you want an artifact that badly, pay for it.

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