Loot, Collecting and Restitution

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Module overview

Loot, Collecting and Restitution will explore histories of collecting under 19th-20th century colonial regimes, as well as the looting and illicit trafficking of cultural material in the 20th-21st century. Focusing on objects from Asia, Africa and the Middle East which are now located in museums worldwide, it aims to demonstrate the complexities of historic modes of collecting, as well as the problems, politics and practices of restitution today.

Restitution is one of the key issues facing museum institutions in the West. Its current high profile is the result of shifting global power relations and the increasingly vocal criticisms of the historical concentration of world heritage in Europe and North America. This module will engage with contemporary issues relating to nationalism, international legal frameworks and the power of the art market, and will raise fundamental museological questions about who owns culture and where objects belong. It will consider the fate of looted objects where their original sites no longer exist and explore the potential of digital technologies - virtual and visual restitution, the role of online databases in re-uniting collections, digital scanning and reconstructions. Importantly, the module will address the practicalities and processes of provenance research, documentation and evidence gathering, in order to develop students’ skills and employability. It will include museum visits, discussions, debates and the analysis of museum texts and official reports.


  • This Module is capped at 30 places
  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of critical concepts in the restitution debates and the histories of loot and collecting.
  • Critically analyse the role of museums and the art market in the production of meaning and value to objects.
  • Appraise the institutional and professional contexts within which museum professionals work.
  • Critically evaluate official reports and museum texts.


  • One hour lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1,000-word critical review (worth 30% of marks)
  • One 2,000-word research essay (worth 60%)
  • One group presentation (worth 10%)

Suggested reading

  • Hauser-Schäublin, Brigitta and Prott, Lyndel (2016) Cultural Property and Contested Ownership: The Trafficking of Artefacts and the Quest for Restitution. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Hicks, Dan (2020), The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, London: Pluto Press.
  • Jenkins, Tiffany (2016) Keeping their Marbles: How the treasures of the Past ended up in museums and why they should stay there. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Liu, Zuozhen (2016) The Case for Repatriating China’s Cultural Objects. Singapore: Springer.
  • Mackenzie, Simon, Neil Brodie, Donna Yates with Christos Tsirogiannis (2020) Trafficking Culture: New Directions in Researching the Global Markets in Illicit Antiquities, London and New York: Routledge.
  • Nagashima, Masayuki (2002) The Lost Heritage: The reality of Artefact Smuggling in Southeast Asia. Bangkok: Post Books.
  • Phillips, Barnaby (2021) Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes, Oneworld Publications: London. Museums, and Restitution, Singapore: NUS Press.
  • Tythacott, Louise and Arvanitis, Kostas (eds.) (2014) Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Tythacott, Louise and Panggah Ardiyansyah (eds.) (2021) Returning Southeast Asia’s Past: Objects, Museums, and Restitution, Singapore: NUS Press.
  • Van Buerden, Jos (2012) The Return of Cultural and Historical Treasures: The Case of the Netherlands. KIT Publishers.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules