IPC00053F (Language and Study Skills 2 BASSH) – Museums’ Moral Responsibility: The Return of Cultural Items to their Country of Origin


University of York



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IPC00053F (Language and Study Skills 2 BASSH)
Museums' Moral Responsibility: The Return of Cultural Items to their Country of Origin

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Essay Title:Museums’ Moral Responsibility: The Return of Cultural Items to their Country of Origin

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I agree with the view that museums should return cultural objects. In recent years, there has been controversy over whether museums should return cultural objects to their countries of origin. Take, for example, the British Museum’s museums in some developed countries, which hold a large number of artifacts from other countries. Proponents argue that museums have a responsibility to return cultural objects to their countries of origin, arguing that each country’s cultural objects are part of their own cultural heritage and that they are a “spiritual torch” that will not be destroyed for those who have lost their homes to war. The return of cultural objects is a sign of respect for the traditional culture of other countries. However, some museum administrators believe that cultural objects are safer in their hands because they have the ability to protect them from damage, which countries in armed conflict or political disputes may not (Ayanna Hunter.2022 ). This paper will use museums in various developed European countries as case studies and will focus on “Conservation of Cultural Objects”, “Do European Museums Respect the History and Culture of Other Countries”, “War and Looted Artifacts”, and “The Protection of Cultural Objects”. The paper will discuss whether some historical artifacts should be returned to their countries of origin, such as exile. Contents First of all, it is immoral not to return artefacts to other countries. In the 2018 film Black Panther, there is a plot in which the villain breaks into the Museum of Great Britain and loots the special ore produced in “Wakanda”. At the end of the heist, he shouts out to the manager of the museum, “You stole these artefacts”. Although the content of these films is fictional, it is a fact that most museums in developed countries have artefacts plundered from other countries through wars of aggression. For example, in 1799, after Napoleon occupied Egypt, French scholars found a stone with a strange inscription on it, which the French named ‘Rosetta’. When the British army defeated Napoleon in Egypt, ‘Rosetta’ became a trophy for the British. It has been in the Museum of Great Britain for over 200 years.” The British Museum holds the stone as a symbol of the West’s cultural violence against Egypt,” ( Monica Hanna). Despite thousands of Egyptians, wanting the British to return the artefact, which records the earliest hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, as evidenced by the more than 10,000 signatures on a petition by former Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass. But the British Museum chose to ignore the Egyptians’ request and refused to return the ‘Rosetta’ tower on the grounds that the petition did not come from the. Egyptian government. I think it is immoral to take artefacts from other countries as spoils of war through wars of aggression, which is a way of showing contempt for other peoples’ cultures and a way of flaunting war victories. However, I think a large part of the reason why the British. Museum has not returned objects like the Rosetta is because “they are the most visited objects in the museum”. (Cairo (AP), 2023). The British Museum makes a huge amount of money from this artefact and is visited by thousands of tourists every year. This includes objects such as the ‘Elgin Marbles’ from Greece, statues from Easter Island, and the ‘Tabots’ from Ethiopia, which are religiously or historically significant objects that have become moneymakers for the British Museum and are These religiously or historically significant objects have become money-making tools for the British Museum, where they are locked in transparent “cages”. Secondly, conservation: can European museums really leave their artefacts intact? The answer to this question may be found in the article ‘More than 60 artefacts damaged by mysterious stains in Berlin museums’ (Euronews with AP, 2020).In October 2020, several museums in Berlin were attacked on the same day and staff found up to 60 artefacts sprayed with an unknown oily liquid, including the famous Egyptian artefact ‘Prophet A The sarcophagus of the Prophet Amos”. Incredibly, the police have yet to catch the perpetrators of this act of vandalism. Meanwhile, the police deduce that the vandals did so because they were unhappy with the new coronavirus prevention policy introduced by the government. This has made a mockery of some European museums which have always refused to return artifacts to other countries on security grounds, and apparently instead of protecting them well, they have fallen victim to popular opposition to

the government’s epidemic policies. This is not the first time that museums in developed countries have failed to protect their exhibits. A huge gold coin bearing the image of the Queen, worth $4 million (£3.2 million), was stolen from a museum in Germany (BBC, 2017.) The huge gold coin was placed in a display case made of bullet-proof glass, but was stolen anyway, and although the perpetrators have been caught , the coin has still not been found. The refusal to return it to another country on the grounds that it could be better protected has repeatedly led to man-made damage to the artefact due to inadequate protection. This reason is apparently more of an excuse for some developed countries’ museums to keep the trophies they have ‘stolen’ from elsewhere.

However, some countries at war are not in a position to protect their national heritage. Sabine von Schollmer, Head of the Department of International Law, EU Law and International Relations at Dresden University of Technology and former Governor of the German state of Saxony, believes that “deliberate and systematic violations of cultural heritage have spread to a considerable extent” since the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in March 2001.” The deliberate destruction of historical artifacts by terrorists has occurred on numerous occasions in countries such as Syria and Iraq.In 2015, for example, the terrorist group.Daesh destroyed ancient buildings in the Syrian city of Palmyra and stole centuries-old books and manuscripts from the city’s library. Outrageously, the group violently destroyed hundreds of artifacts from the Mosul Museum. This deliberate destruction of artifacts as a result of war has also continued in recent years. The best example of this is the hundreds of historical sites and artifacts that have been damaged or destroyed by Russian troops since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Ukrainian Minister of Culture has said that Russian soldiers have looted or destroyed hundreds of artifacts from nearly 40 museums in Ukraine. This is a deliberate cultural cleansing and a disaster for cultural artifacts. These ‘physical evidence’ of history and past cultures have fallen victim to war, just as Britain destroyed other countries’ cultural artifacts through warfare in the 19th century. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself and the countries that started the wars have not learnt from it. It is clear that these war-torn countries cannot even protect their own homes, let alone their historical artifacts, which is why it is sometimes a good thing that museums in developed countries choose not to return cultural artefacts to other countries.

In conclusion, the return of cultural objects to their countries of origin is very complex and challenging. Most developed countries that own foreign cultural objects refuse to return them on the grounds that they could be better protected. I believe that this view is wrong, as each country’s historical artefacts are unique, the culmination of its ancient cultural heritage, and have special significance for those countries and peoples who have lost their homes and cultural heritage to war. The role of museums is to make people respect history and the history and civilisation of other countries. It is not to make cultural artefacts a tool for people to look at and make money. The fact that some countries cannot afford to protect cultural objects because of war does not justify the private appropriation of cultural objects from other countries. If museums in developed countries really just want to preserve cultural objects, they should commit to voluntarily returning them to other countries once they are free from war. Historical artefacts serve to record the history of civilisations and to let people know what happened in history, and they are the best ‘recorders’. Don’t let historical artefacts become “canaries in a cage”。

Solid gold coin worth $4m stolen from Berlin museum. (2017). BBC
News. [online] 27 Mar. Available at:
AP NEWS. (2022). Egyptians call on British Museum to return
Rosetta stone. [online] Available at:


Simon (2023). The Pros And Cons Of Returning Artifacts To Their
Original Countries – Museum Of African American History And
Culture. [online] www.arnabontempsmuseum.com. Available at:


ICRP. (2022). Repatriation: the return of cultural property.

[online] Available at: http://culturalrelations.org/repatriation-the-
return-of-cultural-property/ [Accessed 18 Jun. 2023].

Published.(2022).Targeting culture :The destruction of cultural
heritage in conflict.[online] Available