Cultural Ownership

ISHA 2006-07

Is ownership an adequate model when it comes to matters of culture? Who should be the stewards of cultural artifacts, be they archaeological remains, works of art, or languages? Can a group claim primary ownership of what it views as its cultural heritage, or must competing interests be recognized? If so, what kinds of interests may make a legitimate claim, and how is their legitimacy determined? Should a balance be struck between the interests of scientific investigation and the conflicting claims of an indigenous people? Who owns topics, experiences, or forms that may be used or appropriated in works of literature, art, or music? Are certain images sacrosanct or to be treated with special care for cultural reasons? What is at stake when Western pharmaceuticals use resources regarded as indigenous in other parts of the world to develop profit-making but also life-enhancing medicines? Should restrictions and obligations be placed on scholars who seek to work with contested materials, and if so, what kinds? Does the search for authenticity occlude the realities of cultural fusion and transmigration? What issues are at stake when a group does not have the means to preserve its culture but preservation has a primary value?

In various forms and in various locations, such questions are salient ones today. Some are reinforced because of the realities of globalisation; some emerge from a long history of colonialism and its aftermath; some derive from other legacies of conflict; some are intrinsic to newly developing forms of interaction. Because of the importance of these issues, the Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Humanities and Fine Arts selected the theme of Cultural Ownership for its seminar of 2006-07.


Sky Arndt-Briggs
German and Scandinavian Studies
Changing Definitions of Cultural Ownership: The Absorption of Communist East Germany into a United Capitalist Germany.

David Bollier 
Dreams of a Common Culture.

Olga Gershenson 
Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Department
Soviet-Jewish Film, Owned and Disowned. 

Laetitia La Follette
Department of Art, Architecture and Art History
Did True Go Wrong? Cultural ownership, antiquities and the museum.

Robert Paynter 
Department of Anthropology
Native American Graves and Repatriation. 

Oriol Pi-Sunyer 
Department of Anthropology
The Papers of Salamanca and Other Cultural Property Episodes in Catalonia. 

Banumathi Subramaniam
Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Genes "R" Us? Genetics, Cultures, and the Limits of Individual Ownership. 

Anthony Tuck
Department of Classics
Restless Culture: Terrorist Financing, Drugs and the Illicit Market for Antiquities. 

Paul Walsh 
Department of Theater
Actor Research, Cultural Appropriation, and the Ownership of Experience. 

Martin Wobst
Department of Anthropology
Indigenous Archaeologies and Cultural Ownership.