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Whose Culture?
The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities
Edited by James Cuno

Paperback | 2012 | $23.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691154435
232 pp. | 6 x 9 | 44 halftones.
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The international controversy over who "owns" antiquities has pitted museums against archaeologists and source countries where ancient artifacts are found. In his book Who Owns Antiquity?, James Cuno argued that antiquities are the cultural property of humankind, not of the countries that lay exclusive claim to them. Now in Whose Culture?, Cuno assembles preeminent museum directors, curators, and scholars to explain for themselves what's at stake in this struggle--and why the museums' critics couldn't be more wrong.

Source countries and archaeologists favor tough cultural property laws restricting the export of antiquities, have fought for the return of artifacts from museums worldwide, and claim the acquisition of undocumented antiquities encourages looting of archaeological sites. In Whose Culture?, leading figures from universities and museums in the United States and Britain argue that modern nation-states have at best a dubious connection with the ancient cultures they claim to represent, and that archaeology has been misused by nationalistic identity politics. They explain why exhibition is essential to responsible acquisitions, why our shared art heritage trumps nationalist agendas, why restrictive cultural property laws put antiquities at risk from unstable governments--and more. Defending the principles of art as the legacy of all humankind and museums as instruments of inquiry and tolerance, Whose Culture? brings reasoned argument to an issue that for too long has been distorted by politics and emotionalism.

In addition to the editor, the contributors are Kwame Anthony Appiah, Sir John Boardman, Michael F. Brown, Derek Gillman, Neil MacGregor, John Henry Merryman, Philippe de Montebello, David I. Owen, and James C. Y. Watt.


"In this new collection of essays, Cuno has also assembled a group of broadly like-minded colleagues, both museum curators and academics, all of whom affirm, from a variety of perspectives, why great encyclopaedic collections can, and ought, to exist. . . . [The volume] marks an important advance. After an uncertain, not to say timorous, few decades, the leadership of at least some of our major institutions has found its voice. More than that, it has rediscovered something approaching a set of shared values--and, as Whose Culture? makes clear, it is ready to take on all comers in their defence."--John Adamson, Standpoint Magazine

"[Cuno] has emerged as the champion of museums who want to keep their holdings--and not a moment too soon. . . . Cuno speaks the cosmopolitan language of cultural pluralism. The other side, insisting that art remain where it happened to be found, deploys the rhetoric of jealous nationalism in the service of government. Culture matters more than concocted national pride, as curators and museum directors know. At last they're re-asserting their principles, after an embarrassing period of passivity and pusillanimity."--Robert Fulford, The National Post

"For the general reader seeking to get up to speed on this critically important debate, this volume is destined to become an indispensable guide. Each contributor makes salient points in favour of their museological argument."--Tom Mullaney, The Art Newspaper

"The issues raised will certainly draw controversy and debate, especially in the current environment. Issues of cultural heritage remain targets of ethical, legal, political, and cultural controversies surrounding cultural property. Museum professionals, university scholars, and others deeply interested in cultural heritage will find the work a necessary read."--Choice

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix Introduction by James Cuno 1

Part One: The Value of Museums 37 To Shape the Citizens of "That Great City, the World" by Neil MacGregor 39 "And What Do You Propose Should Be Done with Those Objects?" by Philippe de Montebello 55 Whose Culture Is It? by Kwame Anthony Appiah 71

Part Two: The Value of Antiquities 87 Antiquities and the Importance--and Limitations--of Archaeological Contexts by James C. Y. Watt 89 Archaeologists, Collectors, and Museums by Sir John Boardman 107 Censoring Knowledge: The Case for the Publication of Unprovenanced Cuneiform Tablets by David I. Owen 125

Part Three: Museums, Antiquities, and Cultural Property 143 Exhibiting Indigenous Heritage in the Age of Cultural Property by Michael F. Brown 145 Heritage and National Treasures by Derek Gillman 165 The Nation and the Object by John Henry Merryman 183

Select Bibliography 205 Contributors 209 Index 213

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