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25 April, 2006

Should treasure be hidden?

The major museums of most Western European nations (and the USA) contain numerous relics from other countries, typically as a result of wars and our colonial adventures.  An article in the Guardian makes a useful contribution to the ongoing debate about whether to return artefacts to their source countries.

To summarise the central argument: there could be merit in making historical objects readily available to large numbers of people, with the full resources of modern curating and marketing, in places visited by large numbers of people ('world capitals'). At least in the examples cited by the article, the alternative is to display artefacts in underdeveloped and excessively exclusive museums in the countries which do indeed have the greater claim to ownership, but which aren't visited by anything like the same number of people.

My own (underinformed) opinion is that in most cases, the source countries have the most legitimate claim to ownership, but having acknowledged that, it'd be advantageous for those governments to make permanent loans to those nations best able to preserve and present key items. As the article says, the relics become ambassadors of their home nations, educating the world about those countries and potentially inspiring people to visit.

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