We rarely present new books on this blog (simply because there are so many), but there is one recent publication not only art and museum curators, but also archivists and librarians should be aware of. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property concerns not only “ancient” works of art or cultural heritage, but also material which could be of a rather recent date. The Convention is not only relevant in regard of collection or acquisition, but also when cultural heritage material is being displayed publicly or made available through digitisation, for example.

The book Cultural Property and Contested Ownership, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin and Lyndel V. Prott (London & New York: Routledge, 2017) provides long awaited insights and experiences from an interdisciplinary point of view by professionals working with cultural heritage material.

The publisher’s description of the book says the following:

“Against the backdrop of international conventions and their implementation, Cultural Property and Contested Ownership explores how highly-valued cultural goods are traded and negotiated among diverging parties and their interests. Cultural artefacts, such as those kept and trafficked between art dealers, private collectors and museums, have become increasingly localized in a ‘Bermuda triangle’ of colonialism, looting and the black market, with their re-emergence resulting in disputes of ownership and claims for return. This interdisciplinary volume provides the first book-length investigation of the changing behaviours resulting from the effect of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The collection considers the impact of the Convention on the way antiquity dealers, museums and auction houses, as well as nation states and local communities, address issues of provenance, contested ownership, and the trafficking of cultural property. The book contains a range of contributions from anthropologists, lawyers, historians and archaeologists. Individual cases are examined from a bottom-up perspective and assessed from the viewpoint of international law in the Epilogue. Each section is contextualised by an introductory chapter from the editors.”

The book is divided into three parts. Part one is dedicated to the theme Plunder, trafficking and return, and includes contributions by Keiko Miura on Destruction and plunder of Cambodian cultural heritage and their consequences, Alper Tasdelen on Cambodia’s struggle to protect its movable cultural property and Thailand, and Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin who discusses Looted, trafficked, donated, and returned: the twisted tracks of Cambodian antiquities.

The second part deals with Profit, authenticity and ethics, and contains contributions by Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz on Struggles over historic shipwrecks in Indonesia: economic versus preservation interests, as well as by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin and Sophorn Kim on Faked biographies: The remake of antiquities and their sale on the art market.

Part three of the book looks at Negotiating conditions of return, and includes contributions by Barbara Plankensteiner on The Benin treasures: difficult legacy and contested heritage, by Anne Splettstößer on Pre-Columbian heritage in contestation: The implementation of the UNESCO 1970 convention on trial in Germany, and finally by Sarah Fründt who gives insights in Return logistics – repatriation business: Managing the return of ancestral remains to New Zealand.

In addition, there are an introduction by the editors and an epilogue. Each article is accompanied by a detailed list of references which are useful for further study of the entire topic.

Front cover of the book “Cultural Property and Contested Ownership” (ISBN 978-1-138-18883-9)

 

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