Between Power and Conflict: Case studies of art in times of war and revolution from 1868 to today

Showcasing Art History

In recent months, museums and galleries around the world have been forced to respond to the increasingly urgent call to return the famous Benin bronzes to Nigeria, from where they had been taken, as part of some 10,000 royal and sacred objects, during a British punitive expedition in 1897.

Our intensive summer term of lectures begins with an exploration of the looting of Benin City and the earlier British Abyssinian Expedition of 1868, as prime examples of the pillaging of cultural treasures that was an integral and instrumental part of Western colonial expansion in the nineteenth century.

Over the following weeks, we shall look at the wider history of what happened to ancient and modern works of art in political, legal, curatorial and institutional terms, at key moments of war and revolution in the long twentieth century.  Our lecturers will focus on selected instances of looting and restitution, suppression, destruction and protection of cultural heritage, in their various historical and ideological contexts.   Case studies include the dispersal and restitution of works of art during and after the Russian Revolution; the Europe-wide looting of art works during the Nazi era and the ongoing fight for restitution that ensued; the traumatic impact on the arts of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and of the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition in 2003.

Our panel of specialist speakers include: Alexandra Watson Jones (The University of St Andrews); Dr Natalia Murray (The Courtauld); MaryKate Cleary (The University of Edinburgh); Professor Sussan Babaie (The Courtauld); Alice Farren-Bradley (Cranfield University)

Course delivery methods

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