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AFRICAAM 246: Introduction to African Studies II: Who Owns the Past? African Museum Collections in the Bay Area (HISTORY 245, HUMCORE 136)

The colonial era saw widespread extraction of cultural treasures by European powers across the globe. Greece, Egypt, and other countries have maintained that these objects belong at home rather than in the museums of London, Paris, and New York. This class invites you to consider the role of African art in debates about ownership, access, and aesthetics. Stanford University, for example, has a large collection of African objects in the Cantor Museum, while in nearby San Francisco, the renowned De Young Museum has a significant selection in its Africa gallery.Classes will chart the "scramble for art" that occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries among European colonial powers on the African continent. We will also examine the role of North American collectors in extracting African cultural treasures from the continent, and the burgeoning ethnographic museum culture that showcased these objects at universities and museums across the U.S. We will consider how practices of more »
The colonial era saw widespread extraction of cultural treasures by European powers across the globe. Greece, Egypt, and other countries have maintained that these objects belong at home rather than in the museums of London, Paris, and New York. This class invites you to consider the role of African art in debates about ownership, access, and aesthetics. Stanford University, for example, has a large collection of African objects in the Cantor Museum, while in nearby San Francisco, the renowned De Young Museum has a significant selection in its Africa gallery.Classes will chart the "scramble for art" that occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries among European colonial powers on the African continent. We will also examine the role of North American collectors in extracting African cultural treasures from the continent, and the burgeoning ethnographic museum culture that showcased these objects at universities and museums across the U.S. We will consider how practices of museum curation throughout the twentieth century shaped and defined fundamental categories including the notion of "African art" itself. Students will discuss pressing questions of agency, justice, and power. We will consider early calls from African countries for repatriation of their objects and the ongoing state of these debates today, including the current call for the return of the famed and controversial Benin Bronzes and the efforts of museums like the De Young, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harvard's Peabody Museum, and the UCLA Fowler Museum to ethically engage with their African holdings. Throughout the class, our guiding question will be: who owns the past? Are these cultural treasures the property of all humanity (as many museums would argue), or of the specific countries and communities who lay claim to them?
Terms: Win | Units: 3
Instructors: Cabrita, J. (PI)
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