Ethics and Cultural Property

Bibliographic Information

Course Title

Ethics and Cultural Property


David K. Thulman

Institution Where Taught

The George Washington University

Semester or Date Taught

Spring 2014

Web Address (URL)

Additional Information

Course Number

Anth 6508

Course Level

Course Description

This graduate and upper-level undergraduate seminar course will examine various issues relating to the study, acquisition, interpretation, conservation, and presentation of cultural material by focusing on ethical issues relating to the practice of archaeologists and museum professionals. We will explore the concepts of cultural property, ownership, value, ethical responsibility, and the difficulty of balancing competing interests. Why should we preserve the past and what form should it take? How are archaeological sites and objects viewed by various interested parties and descendant communities who feel they have a legitimate stake in their use and interpretation? In what ways has the past been used for political purposes in different times and places? To what extent have ethnocentric attitudes and policies alienated indigenous peoples from anthropologists? How have museums, collectors, auction houses, and the illicit traffic in artifacts contributed to this situation, and how are these issues being grappled with today? What is being done to encourage dialog between opposing parties in the ongoing struggle for control over cultural materials? We will explore these issues via readings and class discussions drawing from a number of case studies. Attention will be placed on understanding diverse cultural perspectives concerning the past and cultural "propertyā€¯ and what meanings these constructs hold for various interested parties today.

Syllabus Available



PDF version of syllabus available on GWU's Anthropology Department website.

Additional tags: ethnocentrism; politics; stakeholders; case studies; cultural property; ethical codes; NAGPRA; Kennewick Man


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