Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Promise of Museums

I am looking forward to reading James Cuno's new edited volume Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities (Princeton University Press, 2009) [website].

Cuno's "Introduction" is available as a download and it starts with a reflection on the three elements of the title. Here is the second:
The Promise of Museums. As a repository of objects, dedicated to the promotion of tolerance and inquiry and the dissipation of ignorance, where the artifacts of one culture and one time are preserved and displayed next to those of other cultures and times without prejudice.
Are we going to see museum directors also making the following promises?
  • They will not acquire antiquities that do not have collecting histories prior to 1970.
  • They will not accept recently-surfaced antiquities as short- or long term loans.
  • They and their curatorial teams will respond positively and co-operatively to enquiries about objects in their collections.
  • They will respond positively and co-operatively to requests by foreign governments when the ownership of antiquities is disputed.
  • They will seek to inform themselves about the destructive forces of looting.
  • They will condemn the looting of archaeological sites.
Some museum directors and their teams, of course, can already respond positively to such promises.

Cuno has not had time to respond to the numerous criticisms of Who Owns Antiquity? For my response see the review article in the American Journal of Archaeology.

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