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Should stolen art and artifacts be returned to their culture of origin?

Objects on display in museums often have long and complicated histories of ownership. Artworks can be purchased, exchanged, and given as gifts, but they can also be stolen or looted. During the era of Colonialism, European powers claimed vast lands and enslaved large populations; they also took ownership over cultural objects. Many consider these artworks stolen and believe they should be returned to their original cultures. Others argue these artifacts can have a more profound educational impact on a wider audience if they remain in Western museums. The question remains, who owns these historical objects?


African art restitution

Once Plundered By Colonialists, Chinese Art Is Being Stolen Back

Additional resources to think about

The Problem with Museums
In this episode of Origin of Everything, Dr. Danielle Bainbridge explains the ethical problems US and European museums face today and explores the debate around the display of historical human remains.

A guide to Africa's 'looted treasures'
In this article from the BBC, learn about some of the objects taken from Africa during the colonial era, then test your new knowledge with a short online quiz.

As African Art Thrives, Museum Grapple With Legacy of Colonialism
This article from Smithsonian Magazine discusses how museums around the world are working to get objects repatriated to the communities they came from and the impact returning them may have.

Smithsonian Museum of African Art
Explore the objects held in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Yale Faces New Claims Of Stolen Artifacts
This article from the New Haven Independent discusses the Tinglit art on display at the Yale Peabody Museum and details the history of the museum's repatriation of artifacts.

Should Museums Return Looted Artifacts to Their Countries of Origin?
This student opinion piece from The New York Times asks if museums have the right to display objects forcibly taken during colonization.

Why finding Nazi-looted art is 'a question of justice'
This article from the PBS NewsHour discusses the efforts to track down and recover art stolen by the Nazis during WWII and how Holocaust victims and their descendants are still seeking justice.

The Case for Museums
The Art Assignment makes the case for museums, including their history, the (fairly) recent decision to open to the public, and what museums' complicated histories mean for us today.

Lesson plan: After helping Pilgrims, today's Wampanoag tribe fight for their ancestral lands
This PBS NewsHour Extra lesson plan covers the Wampanoag tribe's efforts to recover stolen land, languages, art, artifacts, and other objects that are culturally significant to their people.


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Should stolen art and artifacts be returned to their culture of origin?

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