events archive

Keeping Their Marbles

How the Treasures of the Past Ended Up in Museums - And Why They Should Stay There

7:00pm, Tuesday 19 April 2016, Keynes Library, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

Author Dr Tiffany Jenkins, talks to Professor Catharine Edwards about her new book and why she wrote it.

How do we best protect the world’s cultural heritage, and what role do museums, nation states, and international bodies play in the process?The fabulous collections housed in the world’s most famous museums are trophies from an imperial age. Yet the huge crowds that each year visit the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, or the Metropolitan in New York have little idea that many of the objects on display were acquired by coercion or theft.

Now the countries from which these treasures came would like them back. The Greek demand for the return of the Elgin Marbles is the tip of an iceberg that includes claims for the Benin Bronzes from Nigeria, sculpture from Turkey, scrolls and porcelain taken from the Chinese Summer Palace, textiles from Peru, the bust of Nefertiti, Native American sacred objects and Aboriginal human remains.

In Keeping Their Marbles, which has been hailed by John Carey, in the Sunday Times, as ‘an outstanding achievement, clear-headed, wide ranging and incisive’, Tiffany Jenkins tells the bloody story of how western museums came to acquire their objects. She investigates why repatriation claims have soared in recent decades and demonstrates how it is the guilt and insecurity of the museums themselves that have stoked the demands for return. Contrary to the arguments of campaigners, she shows that sending artefacts ‘back’ will not achieve the desired social change nor repair the wounds of history. She argues that no one culture owns culture and there is no one home for any object.

In conversation with Professor Catharine Edwards, Tiffany Jenkins will discuss issues she raises in her book and whether museums should keep their treasures.


Tiffany Jenkins is an author, academic, broadcaster and columnist. Her writing credits include the Scotsman, BBC Culture, the Guardian, the Financial Times and Spectator. Her previous book was Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority. She has consulted widely in academia and museums on cultural policy, most recently at University of Oslo, the Norwegian Theatres and Orchestras, and the National Touring Network for Performing Arts.

Catharine Edwards is Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of several books, including Death in Ancient Rome (Yale University Press, 2007), is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4 In Our Times, and presented the BBC TV series Mothers, Murderers and Mistresses: empresses of ancient Rome (2013).