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Confronting Colonial Objects: Histories, Legalities and Access to Culture

Carsten Stahn has just published Confronting Colonial Objects: Histories, Legalities and Access to Culture. The book is part of the OUP Cultural Heritage Law and Policy Series.

Carsten Stahn
08 November 2023

It argues that cultural takings were material to the colonial project throughout different periods of history (early takings, birth of modern nation state, 19th century scramble for objects) and went far beyond looting. It relies on micro histories and selected object biographies to trace recurring justifications and contestations of takings and returns and the dual role of law and cultural heritage regulation in enabling colonial injustices, and mobilizing resistance. It draws on the interplay between justice, ethics, and human rights to develop principles of relational cultural justice to confront ongoing historic, legal, and economic entanglements of objects and enable normative transformation. It received kind endorsements from Judge Hilary Charlesworth (ICJ), Tendayi Achiume, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, Chief Charles A. Taku, and Profs. Lucas Lixinski and Dirk Moses.

The project will continue in 2024 with an interdisciplinary workshop on ‘Changing Approaches Towards Restitution and Return of Colonial Heritage: Tracing Experiences and Identifying Shared Decolonial Practices’, supported by one of the KIEM grants of Leiden University. It is part of the Exploring the Frontiers of International Law (EFIL) research programme of the Grotius Centre.

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Summaries and chapters

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