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UW in Scotland Courses: Currently Recruiting

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Summer 2020 UW in Scotland: Stealing Culture (HP 4152)

Course Description:

Walter Scott’s house is full of artifacts collected and gifted; many signal Scottish culture, but others come from distant lands, and point to problems that haunt museums today. For instance, Lord Byron the poet gave Scott a silver funeral urn (dated 1815)—in which there were bones from ancient Athens (date unknown). If that were not problematic enough, Byron sent a letter with his gift. The letter itself has been stolen. And where are the bones …?

Today, in one five-minute sequence, the new blockbuster Marvel movie Black Panther raises these issues now central to the modern museum world: cultural appropriation and repatriation, the racial composition of museum staffs, and lingering stereotypes regarding visitors of color. Some of these concerns returned to the public consciousness in the 1980s, when the Greek government began campaigning forcefully — and so far unsuccessfully — for the British Museum to repatriate the Elgin Marbles, a group of classical sculptures removed from the Parthenon by the Scottish Lord Elgin. But these issues have a fresh relevance today as society increasingly shifts away from a Eurocentric point of view and gains a renewed appreciation for the indigenous culture of formerly colonized nations.

By spending time with international experts and visiting relevant locations in Scotland, London, Amsterdam, and Paris, students will analyze all the different forms of theft that directly impact museums: cultural, fraudulent, and physical. This interdisciplinary class introduces students to the laws of governing and the circumstances behind topics regarding visual arts as cultural goods, international theft and smuggling of works of art, forgery, art museums, architectural preservation, and related matter.

 

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