Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure
Geoffrey Robertson focuses his razor-sharp mind on one of the greatest contemporary issues in the worlds of art and culture: the return of cultural property taken from its country of creation.
Hard on the heels of his best-selling autobiography Rather His Own Man, one of Australia’s foremost public intellectuals turns his mind to one of the most important contemporary questions that divides the world of art and culture: the restitution of heritage treasures removed in earlier times from subjugated peoples who now want them back.
Taking his cue from Cicero, the great Roman barrister, Geoffrey Robertson argues that justice requires the return not only of the ‘Elgin’ Marbles to Greece, but of many looted antiquities on display in the museums of Britain, Europe and America. He argues that the Gweagal Shield – dropped when Cook shot at Aboriginals in Botany Bay in 1770 – should be returned to Australia from the British Museum. He wants the government to acquire the hull of HMS Endeavour recently located off Rhode Island. He has located Arthur Phillip’s tombstone for Yemmerrawanne, the first Australian expatriate, in a South London churchyard, and he wants to bring it back.
Robertson’s judgement is uncompromising: cultural heritage belongs to the people of whose history it is a part, unless its return would be attended by danger to the artwork itself. And since the movement for the restitution of cultural property is based on human rights, governments that want it back must show respect for the rights of the peoples on whose behalf they make the claim.
Who Owns History? not only delves into the crucial debate over the Marbles, but examines how the past can be experienced by everyone, as well as by the people of the country of origin.
“A book that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the Parthenon Marbles belong back in Athens. Elgin’s heist prevents the modern world appreciating this ancient wonder – created by the same people who gave us democracy, philosophy and (best of all), comedy. Other cultural crimes must also be redressed, and in this important book Geoffrey Robertson shows why, and how.”
“A book which provides, once and for all, the case for re-uniting the Parthenon Marbles in Athens. This is a powerful cry for justice – it deserves a response.”
“A noble work for a noble cause. This is Geoffrey Robertson at his best, making the case for justice as a citizen of the world and an Australian.”
“Who Owns History? gives new impetus to the debate about the return of the Parthenon marbles and looted cultural heritage more generally.”
“Rightly and lucidly, [Robertson] makes a case for context in museums such as the Acropolis Museum, over the combination of hoarding and quick selfie opportunities that major museums provide ... Robertson’s new book is an important breath of fresh air to reignite the embers of the cultural heritage restitution debate. It tackles the possibilities of what a true postcolonial engagement with cultural heritage might look like. I hope people far and wide heed his call”
Lucas Lixinski, Associate Professor at Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney, Sydney Morning Herald