Stealing History 2005

conference audience chatting

A debate about museums and cultural property

6 October 2005 at World Museum

The first Stealing History debate, chaired by David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, was held in the Treasure House Theatre at World Museum.

Speakers' abstracts are below, or you can read a full transcript of their presentations on this website.

Speakers' abstracts

Piotr Bienkowski, acting director, Manchester Museum

  • How and why Egyptian material was collected, 19th century collecting and destruction, Egyptian law, the role of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities
  • Principles of repatriation, contested and non-contested items, cultural property,‘appropriate authority’, consultation and building relationships, Manchester Museum case studies with Australia
  • Ethical and moral issues,‘fundamental rights’, Egyptian human remains and the definition of ‘human’, ethical relation to the past and the past as a reflection of present values, Egypt and Africa, ownership of the past

Eric Lynch, local historian and tour guide

  • How the objects that were taken from Africa for museum collections have robbed communities of their culture
  • Whether museums have the right to keep these objects in their collections

Rounke Williams, resource assistant and educator

  • What is the purpose of museums?
  • Who owns their present contents?
  • What problems face museums in African countries?
  • How might these problems impact on any ‘return’ polices?
  • What can British museums do about them?

Lynne Stumpe, curator of Oceanic collections, National Museums Liverpool

  • Current requests for return of human remains from National Museums Liverpool
  • ‘Ownership’ and the legal context for national museums
  • Identification of remains (relative to other types of item and to people/places of origin)
  • Representation relating to source communities
  • Developing relationships with source communities (increasingly appreciated as a major advantage of return)
  • Changing climates of opinion and the role(s) of museums