The Long History of Claims for the Return of Cultural Heritage from Colonial Contexts

The current debate on how to engage with collections from colonial contexts in European museums and heritage institutions is strongly focused on the issue of restitution. Demands for return may appear comparatively novel – however, the debate has a much longer history: Local objections to the removal and theft of individual belongings, collective property, or human remains have existed since the beginning of the colonial expansion. The same goes for claims for the return of cultural heritage, or for compensation for its removal, as well as for attempts to resist, prevent and publicly condemn colonial looting.

The conference strives to shed light on the ‘long history’ of resistance against colonial dispossession and expropriation through the articulation of claims for the return of cultural heritage. By historicizing the current debate, it aims to explore new avenues for research and future options for action.