Who Owns the Past? Archaeology, Ethics, and Law

Bibliographic Information

Course Title

Who Owns the Past? Archaeology, Ethics, and Law


Andrea Berlin

Institution Where Taught

Boston University

Web Address (URL)


Additional Information

Course Number

AR 480/780

Course Level

Course Description

The past is up for grabs as never before. The contenders are many: collectors, museums countries, native cultures, religious groups. These new stakeholders are an uneasy fit with the past’s traditional, scholarly caretakers – archaeologists, curators, and historians. How should peoples’ competing interests and claims be assessed and adjudicated? In this course we grapple with this new landscape. We will study a series of specific situations, consider them from both ethical and legal points of view, and seek to extract larger principles. Along the way we will dissect and discuss philosophical theories, ethical codes, and national and international laws relevant to cultural property. Ultimately we are unlikely to agree with one another or perhaps even persuade ourselves of what is right or best, but we should end the semester with a real-world understanding of the parameters and complexity of the issue.

Syllabus Available



The course requirements and weekly syllabus are available as separate PDF files at the URL provided, as well as additional readings and resources.

Additional tags: ethical codes; ethical case studies


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