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  • Published: 1 December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760893712
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $22.99

Who Owns History?

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.

  • Published: 1 December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760893712
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Geoffrey Robertson

Geoffrey Robertson QC has had a distinguished career as a trial counsel and human rights advocate. He has been a UN war crimes judge, a counsel in many notable Old Bailey trials, has defended hundreds of men facing death sentences in the Caribbean, and has won landmark rulings on civil liberty from the highest courts in Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth. He is founder and head of Doughty Street Chambers, a Master of the Middle Temple, and a visiting professor at the New College of Humanities in London.

His book Crimes Against Humanity has been an inspiration for the global justice movement, his other books include Freedom, the Individual and the Law, The Tyrannicide Brief, The Statute of Liberty, Dreaming Too Loud and the acclaimed memoir The Justice Game. He has made many television and radio programmes, notably Geoffrey Robertson's Hypotheticals, and has won a Freedom of Information award for his writing and broadcasting. In 2011 he received the New York State Bar Association’s Award for ‘Distinction in International Law and Affairs’, and was Australian Humanitarian of the Year in 2014. In 2018 he was awarded an order of Australia (AO) for ‘his distinguished service to the law and the legal profession as an international human rights lawyer and advocate for global civil liberties’.

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Praise for Who Owns History?

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.

Stephen Fry

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.

Amal Clooney

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.

George Megalogenis

Who Owns History? gives new impetus to the debate about the return of the Parthenon marbles and looted cultural heritage more generally.

The Conversation

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

Awards & recognition

Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award

Longlisted  •  2020  •  Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award

Discover more

History’s spoils

Geoffrey Robertson ponders the rights of nations to hoard the cultural identifiers of others.