Museums owe a duty to society to hold objects within their collections in trust for the benefit of society and have responsibilities towards a variety of stakeholders. These sentiments are expressed in the Codes of Ethics of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the UK’s Museums Association. A particular concern is the provenance (or ownership history) of the collected objects. In some instances museums around the world now contain objects of cultural heritage which were taken from their owners during the Second World War in morally reprehensible circumstances (and which could be said to have a “tainted” provenance). In recent years museums have undertaken provenance research and published lists of objects with uncertain provenance between the years 1933-1945.
Museums may enjoy an undisputed legal entitlement to these objects, yet this can be at odds with the moral claims of survivors of the Second World War who were dispossessed of their objects, or indeed the moral claims of their heirs.
This paper will consider how far the legal entitlement to objects of cultural heritage enjoyed by museums should be limited by the moral claims of these third party stakeholders. Consideration will be given to the difficulties in defining moral entitlement as a universally recognised concept.
It will be argued that the moral strength of claims to cultural heritage is gaining an increasing recognition throughout museum practice. Some museums which have the power to de-accession objects from their collections choose to exercise that power based on the moral claims of third parties, rather than rely on their strict legal entitlements to objects.
In particular the paper will analyse panels such as the United Kingdom Spoliation Advisory Panel which recommends solutions for resolving such disputes without resort to the courts and consider whether the body of decisions by these panels has resulted in the development of a concept of moral entitlement to objects of cultural heritage.
|Keywords:||Cultural Heritage, Legal Entitlement, Moral Entitlement, Competing Claims, Second World War, Interests of Stakeholders|
Lecturer, School of Law and Criminology, University of Derby, Derby, Derbyshire, UK
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