National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Patty Gerstenblith

Affiliation: DePaul University

Professor Patty Gerstenblith received her BA from Bryn Mawr College and her PhD from Harvard University. She then attended law school and graduated with her JD from Northwestern University in 1983. She has served as a member of the United States Cultural Property Advisory Committee from 2000-2003 and is currently the Director for the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University.


Cultural heritage has always been at severe risk during armed conflict. Wars from the time of antiquity to the Second World War and the recent and current conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine have destroyed both movable and immovable cultural heritage and put archaeological sites and collections of cultural objects at risk for theft and looting. This lecture will explore the legal, ethical, and voluntary constraints that have been adopted to protect cultural heritage and in particular archaeological sites from this type of damage and destruction.

The lure of the international art market has incentivized the looting of archaeological sites to supply artifacts for sale. Yet the looting of archaeological sites brings many detrimental effects for local communities, States, and global heritage. The goal of the law should be to disrupt the market at its destination end. This lecture will focus on the detriments that are caused to society, both in the countries of origin and in the destination countries, through the looting of archaeological sites. It will then move to the legal and ethical restraints that have been put in place through the 1970 UNESCO Convention and national laws with the goal of disrupting the market. The lecture will conclude with consideration of the most recent legal developments and an evaluation of the effectiveness of these efforts.

The concept of the “universal” museum developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the context of the founding of the British Museum, the Napoleonic Wars, European imperialism and colonialism, and the mantra of the rescue narrative that justified the removal of cultural artifacts first from the Mediterranean region and later sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. This lecture will explore these origins across the arc of the nineteenth century, the inequities of the international legal system then and its shortcomings now, and the continuing justifications for the retention of looted cultural objects by European and North American museums and collectors. Evaluating the right to cultural heritage through a human rights perspective, this lecture will analyze the process and elements of reparations and will propose a paradigm for the restitution of cultural objects that fall outside of the legal and ethical frameworks.

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