Conference confronts ethical questions behind collecting antiquities

Archaeologists and anthropologists, international governments, museum curators, antiquities collectors and dealers are caught in a pitched battle over the ethics of collecting historical treasures. SMU will bring combatants into the same room Oct. 18-19 to guide the discussion beyond claims of ownership to the need for stewardship in “The Future of the Past: Ethical Implications of Collecting Antiquities in the 21st Century.” Read more.

SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, in association with the SMU-in-Taos program, is sponsoring the conference to explore the ethically complex and challenging world of collecting ancient cultural objects. The goal of the conference is to move participants toward solutions.

Dinner keynote speaker for the first day of the event will be Donny George Youkhanna, Ph.D., who was director general of the Iraqi Museums from 2003 to 2006 and central to the recovery of some of humanity’s most important antiquities following the looting of the Baghdad Museum. Other speakers will include art dealers, collectors, museum directors and curators, representatives of source cultures, archaeologists, art historians, legal scholars and ethicists.

Topics covered will include key controversies affecting the collection of antiquities, the complexities of museum/private collector relationships, the fate of antiquities with unknown or problematic provenance, and the impact of national patrimony claims on the antiquities trade.

Mike Adler, executive director of SMU-in-Taos and associate professor of anthropology, knew at the onset that gathering speakers with passionately competing viewpoints would prove challenging.

“It’s an attempt to get a balanced group of stakeholders. They don’t want to get together,” Adler says. “Perhaps I’m optimistic. I don’t think anything’s unsolvable.”