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Declaration of the Universal Museum – an Update

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Note: This update includes references to some of the items concerning the Declaration from 2004 through mid 2007. The previous references can be found here.

In early December 2002, nineteen of the world’s top art museums issued a statement firmly opposing the repatriation of cultural material. Attention was drawn to the continuing claims by various countries and peoples for return of collections held in the major museums of the world.

Debate on this issue has continued in conferences, on websites and in journals.

Although at the time, it was claimed that return of Aboriginal human remains from museums in Britain to Australia would be hampered by the Declaration, it would seem from recent events concerning material of human remains from Tasmania in The Natural History Museum in London that no reliance was placed in the Declaration. Rather the issue concerns objects created by people.

Nor has the Declaration been the basis for any aspect of the negotiations between art museums in the USA and the Italian Government over classical archaeological items alleged to have been stolen. There are notes about this later.

We can recall that the British Museum asserts that it “is a universal museum holding an encyclopaedic collection of material from across the world and all periods of human culture and history. For the benefit of its audience now and in the future, the Museum is committed to sustaining and improving its collection”.

The British Museum was significantly involved in the adoption of this Declaration and its director, Neil MacGregor, has vigorously defended it.

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