Sunday, January 27, 2013

Just Say No

Hugh Eakin has written a thoughtful piece about the American museum community's capitulation to ever escalating repatriation demands.  Museum trustees have a fiduciary duty to protect their collections from legally deficient claims, but that seems to not be much of a consideration in the face of bad press ginned up by the archaeological lobby and sympathetic journalists aligned with the cultural bureaucracies in places like Greece and Italy.

Eakin rightly notes that repatriation of artifacts that left their supposed countries of origin decades ago does nothing to protect archaeological sites from any current looting.   I would add all the hype about repatriation is in fact a diversion from addressing the problems at the source by tackling over-regulation, choking bureaucracy, under-funding and endemic corruption in places like Greece and Italy.

Perhaps if museums just said no to repatriation claims they might actually encourage some rational discussion of the real issues facing preservation of  artifacts from the past.  Any such discussion should start with some recognition that foreign countries can't possibly preserve, study and display all the artifacts they lay claim to, and protecting artifacts rather than bureaucrats should be the first priority.