NHM Article

NHM discusses Cultural Property and Historical Narratives

By Dr. Katherine Kelaidis, Director of Research and Content at the National Hellenic Museum

To Whom Does That Belong?

Sometimes the answer to this question is easy. For example, when we talk about that newly made shirt you just bought or the china you inherited from your grandmother. However, sometimes the question is much more difficult, as is the case with ancient artifacts. The truth is that these objects were produced within states that no longer exist and by cultures whose relationships to modern culture are complex and sometimes tenuous. Consequently, the trade in antiquities is a complex legal and moral question, governed by a maze of international treaties, national law, and professional standards. It is the responsibility of museums, auction houses, galleries, and private collectors to work constantly to observe all these standards and to rigorously enforce internal codes of practice.

The question then, of course, moves to intangible culture: the stories, characters, and events that happened long before our time. Who “owns” these stories? As recent controversies surrounding the Netflix Cleopatra documentary show, these questions move far beyond mere property dispute.

As a public history museum, dedicated to sharing the Hellenic legacy, the National Hellenic Museum deals with these issues every day, in everything we do. And on July 20 at 7 PM CDT, we will host a special NHM Discussion online that will tackle these issues. Whose is That?: Cultural Property, Historical Narratives, and the Struggle to Own the Past. You can register for this and other NHM Discussions at the NHM Eventbrite Page: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/the-national-hellenic-museum-34927431473.

See you there for a lively discussion!

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