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Imperialism, Colonialism, Reparations, and the “Universal” Museum

Penn Cultural Heritage Center Lecture

Thursday, December 02, 2021 |
12:30PM - 2:00PM ET

This is a virtual event.
A portrait of Patty Gerstenblith in an office full of books.


Virtual Event - Penn Museum


In this virtual lecture hosted by the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, Patty Gerstenblith, Ph.D., J.D., will discuss the concept of the "universal" museum and its historical underpinnings. Dr. Gerstenblith will explore its origins across the arc of the 19th century, the inequities of the international legal system and its shortcomings, and the continuing justifications for the retention of looted cultural objects by European and North American museums and collectors.

The notion of the “universal” museum developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the context of the founding of the British Museum, the Napoleonic Wars, European imperialism and colonialism, and the mantra of the rescue narrative, which justified the removal of cultural artifacts first from the Mediterranean region and later sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. Evaluating the right to cultural heritage through a human rights perspective, this lecture will analyze the process and elements of reparations and will propose a paradigm for the restitution of cultural objects that fall outside of the legal and ethical frameworks.

Patty Gerstenblith, Ph.D., J.D., is distinguished research professor at the DePaul University College of Law and faculty director of its Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law. She was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee in the Department of State and later by President Obama as its chair. She publishes and lectures widely on the protection of cultural heritage during armed conflict and the interdiction of trafficking in archaeological materials. Her casebook, Art, Cultural Heritage and the Law, is now in its fourth edition.

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