Discourses of Cultural Herita

RE: Week 4 Discussion (P1)


At the start of the Parthenon Marbles debate I found myself leaning toward the “For” motion which meant returning the Parthenon Marble back to the people of Athens. By the conclusion of the debate I still felt the same way, however those on the stage debating against the motion did have a few good points I would like to discuss. The argument Tristram Hunt made about the “internationalism” that the British museum stood for was quite compelling as well as keeping art out of a decision that could have political or nationalist repercussions. Where he lost me, and many people in the audience, was when he argued the legality of British ownership. As someone who is interested in studying law, he technically was correct in saying that a court of law would favor on the side of the British, but the moral implication of an occupying force (the British ambassador for the Ottoman Empire) making that decision for the people of greece makes the legality of the situation very messy for the British. So while legality may be true. It is a weak arguing point when the party in question had no real control over the transaction. So, other than the fact that I do believe the British museum of art does fester a better sense of internationalism and learning for all, if there is any exception to be made for returning culturally significant artifacts the Parthenon Marbles is it. Now speaking to the strengths of Andrew George and Stephen Fry, I think they did an amazing job appealing to the emotion of the audience allowing them to overlook the “legality” of the transaction and consider the moral implications that I stated above. Also Stephen Fry did a great job explaining the message it would send to the world if Britain was willing to work with Greece and be “classy” by making an effort to right one of the many wrongs in Britain’s past. He also explained what would replace the marble at the museum which I thought was a good idea, but did not seem to have a strong effect on the audience. Also his analogy of the burning house and the paintings was a perfect way to explain why Britain was almost obligated to return the marble to Athens as they were simply “protecting it” while Greece was occupied. Andrew George appealed to the “replacement” portion of the debate much more strongly by suggesting that Greece would be more than happy to lend the British Museum other artifacts in place of the Marbles more than compensating for the revenue that the marble brought into the museum. At the end of the debate the legal argument was simply not enough to sway me to the other side. The right thing seems to be that Britain should return the marble to Athens without seeking legal “ownership”, however that does not mean they do not deserve some compensation whether that means payment in currency or more artifacts to loan. It is upsetting that to this day the marble still remains in the British museum regardless of the fact that the majority of people want the marbles returned.

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