Give and Take: US Museums’ Attitudes and Ethics Toward the Acquisition and Repatriation of West African Cultural Artefacts
Lambert, M. (2013), ‘Give and Take: US Museums’ Attitudes and Ethics Toward the Acquisition and Repatriation of West African Cultural Artefacts’, Masters Dissertation, University of Glasgow.
This dissertation explores how a small number of United States museum professionals conceptualize and approach the risks and rights involved in the acquisition and return of traditional West African art. Because no similar sociological or criminological studies exist on the museum community’s response to issues of illicit acquisition and repatriation of cultural objects, this research presents an introductory set of questions and findings in an attempt to initiate wider empirical investigation. Interviews were conducted with seven US museum professionals and subsequently analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. The findings of this study indicate that museum professionals within the African art field, while not personally subject to the sensitive issues surrounding the illicit antiquities in the last few decades, have been personally and professionally affected by these events, and that individual museum approaches to these issues are more dependent upon the beliefs and actions of individual curators than upon pre-existing institutional, national, and international policies. Additionally, despite the museum community’s recent emphasis on transparency, there was a notable discomfort and acknowledged sensitivity in discussing these issues.