Empire, ownership, and the Elgin Marbles

Who should own the past?

After the UK Prime Minister recently cancelled a meeting with his Greek counterpart over the latter's comments concerning the return of the Parthenon Marbles it has sparked an evolving debate over their rightful place. Rather than rebuffing such calls, the repatriation of some of the world's most valuable cultural treasures should serve as an opportunity to evaluate the ways in which the impacts of Empire persist to this day, writes Daniel Butt.


In a BBC interview in 1985, Sir David Wilson, then Director of the British Museum, was asked about the feasibility of returning what are variably called the Parthenon or the Elgin Marbles to Greece. “Oh, anything can be done”, he replied. “That’s what Hitler said. That’s what Mussolini said when he got the Italian trains to run on time.” Challenged on whether he was really suggesting that this comparison was warranted, he persisted. “I think this is cultural fascism. It’s nationalism and it’s cultura

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