The Declaration Of Universal Museums

1474 Words6 Pages
In December 2002, the directors of 18 museums located throughout Europe and the United States issued the Declaration of the Importance and Value of Universal Museums. The declaration is an attempt, by the directors of major Western museums, to defend against demands for restitution of museum objects by defining themselves as “universal museums” which are of value to all of humanity. This document fails as a convincing defence against restitution claims for several reasons. First, it dismisses circumstances of older acquisitions without considering the ethics or legality of surrounding the acquisition. Second, while it pronounces these museums “universal,” it approaches this from a distinctly Western perspective and perpetuates colonial and imperialist ideas. Finally, it ignores important debates that are occurring between and within scholarly, professional, and activist communities. The declaration begins with both a condemnation of current illicit trafficking of artefacts and a dismissal of objections regarding the circumstances of historical acquisitions. In stating that “objects acquired in earlier times must be viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values, reflective of that earlier era,” the directors dismiss the sometimes highly unsavoury circumstances that led to the acquisition of certain museum objects. (Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums, 2004) The ethical and legal aspects of acquisition are important considerations when
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