As an undergraduate and new to heritage, one of my first classes in university spoke of repatriation. In that class, I also discovered the theory that every object has a biography and every interaction it has is vital to its story. That deserves to be recognised however, many museums have collections that are argued to have not been gained ethically.
In recent years, there has been a movement in returning human remains to their home. This includes aboriginal remains from what is now called Australia, who had been previously taken and displayed in museums throughout the UK (and across the wider globe) as ‘curiosities’.1 Many agree with the returning of these remains and positively, there are more policies and laws around human remains in museum collections and in safeguarding them. But with some material objects, the debate and what to do could be argued to be less clear.
In my final year of my undergraduate, I based my dissertation on the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. It has a rich, long history, crossing many borders and being included in many conflicts, and is now currently in the Tower of London as part of the Queen Mother’s Crown. Due to its biography, a lot of people and places have connections to the diamond. But if it were to be repatriated, where would it go?
When exploring this question, I uncovered several suggestions. A few examples are; having museums on the borders of countries, having 3D printed copies of an object, literally splitting up objects, keeping the object in the place where it would be most ‘safe’ (usually referring to war-torn countries), using replacement photographs of an object in an exhibition, or do nothing and keep the object where it is, as how it got to that museum is just as much as part of its story.
As expected, there was no one strong conclusion in my research. But by doing this work, it increased my knowledge of the heritage sector and collection care. It also raises the importance that a collection is so much more than making items look nice on display. Collections carry stories and having those people that had connections with the objects in mind whilst curating is vital.
As experienced by myself, if you are someone involved in heritage, it is important to follow the news and these discussions, such as repatriation, that are happening in the sector. It will prepare you for future roles and ensure your work is effective.
On top of any studies and work experience you may do, you could keep in the loop about heritage news by creating a Twitter account dedicated to heritage, following heritage organisations on social media, and attending webinars. It is also great to sign up to newsletters if an organisation offers it. Whatever is available – go for it!
What are your thoughts on repatriation and are you particularly interested in any heritage topic? Let us know!
Photo by Jes Rodríguez on Unsplash
This blog post was written by Zoe Newth, a member of the Heritage Trust Network Youth Forum. There are regular blog posts written by different members of the Youth Forum each month.
The Youth Forum is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thank you to players of the National Lottery.