Commodifications of Cultural Heritage - Themed Syllabi

The Commodifications of Cultural Heritage Working Group has gathered a selection of related university-level syllabi, with course topics ranging from cultural law, art law, cultural property rights and museums, repatriation and more. These syllabi are shared for educational purposes with permission of the authors.





Dr. Sean Robertson — "Repatriation, Intellectual Property and Beyond: The Law and Politics of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage"

Winter 2014, University of Alberta

With the rise of the information economy over the past 40 years, innovation and creativity in the sciences and arts have risen in importance. Stronger legal borders have been placed around knowledge and its products. In many instances, the tangible and intangible aspects of Indigenous knowledge—i.e. traditional cultural expressions (e.g. songs, totem poles, architecture, stories, places, etc.); traditional ecological knowledge (e.g. knowledge of plant species for food and medicine); and, even the genetic code of Indigenous peoples—have been seen as open terrain for commercial exploitation and academic inquiry. As part of the emergence of Indigenous rights movements in the late 20th century, Indigenous peoples have asserted control over their cultural heritage and, in many instances, drawn a border against the public domain. They have sought equitable relationships with university researchers and museums, the repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural objects, protection against appropriation of the knowledge behind foods and medicines, control over the commercial use of Indigenous identities and stories, control of access to sacred landscapes, and deployed TEK as a rhetorical justification for entitlement to their territories.

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Dr. Robert K. Paterson — "Cultural Law"

Spring 2014, University of British Columbia

This course includes discussions on cultural-legal interaction, the meaning of cultural law, the law of cultural heritage, cultural patrimony and export controls on cultural property, Indigenous cultural heritage, stolen art claims, intangible cultural heritage, and museum law. 

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Dr. Robert K. Paterson — "Cultural Property and Art Law"

Fall 2013, University of British Columbia

This course includes explorations of the interface of culture and law, cultural heritage law, intangible cultural heritage, museums and the protection of, and resolution of disputes relating to, cultural material.

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Dr. Haidy Geismar — “Cultural Property Rights and Museums”

Spring 2010, New York University

What does it mean to ‘own’ or have a culture? Are all cultures or all claims the same? Is owning your culture a basic human right? How is this dialogue about cultural and property configured within museums? Who owns collections, exhibitions, and are there different kinds of ownership in the museum context? This course will investigate the growing discussions about cultural property rights that have emerged in the context of museum practices, from collection and display to conservation and archiving. A general analysis of concepts of culture, property, and rights related to these material and social domains, will be offset by sessions that examine how different understanding of entitlements may be negotiated within museum spaces and how museum objects (broadly defined) may be understood as cultural resources. Special focus will be the impact of legislation; indigenous rights movements; international conceptions of intellectual and cultural property; commodity transaction and the marketplace, on drawing out cultural property rights in relation to museum practices. We will aim to develop practical skills that can help us as museum practitioners in navigating these issues and will hold a number of workshops with different guests.

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