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The Brutish Museums

The Brutish Museums

The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution

Dan Hicks

A call for western museums to wash their hands of colonial blood

Walk into any European museum today and you will see the curated spoils of Empire. They sit behind plate glass: dignified, tastefully lit. Accompanying pieces of card offer a name, date and place of origin. They do not mention that the objects are all stolen.

Few artefacts embody this history of rapacious and extractive colonialism better than the Benin Bronzes - a collection of thousands of brass plaques and carved ivory tusks depicting the history of the Royal Court of the Obas of Benin City, Nigeria. Pillaged during a British naval attack in 1897, the loot was passed on to Queen Victoria, the British Museum and countless private collections.

The story of the Benin Bronzes sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums. In The Brutish Museums, Dan Hicks makes a powerful case for the urgent return of such objects, as part of a wider project of addressing the outstanding debt of colonialism.

Dan Hicks FSA is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. He was awarded the 2017 Rivers Memorial Medal by the Royal Anthropological Institute, and was Visiting Professorat the musee du quai Branly Jacques-Chirac in Paris in 2017-18. Dan has published eight books including The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (CUP, 2006).

'An unflinching look at the enduring myths around looted objects in European museums. Elegantly written, thought-provoking and passionately argued, 'The Brutish Museums' is a call to action.' - Bénédicte Savoy

Preface
1. The Gun That Shoots Twice
2. A Theory of Taking
3. Necrography
4. Projection
5. World War Zero
6. Corporate-Militarist Colonialism
7. War on Terror
8. The Benin-Niger-Soudan Expedition
9. The Sacking of Benin City
10. Democide
11. Iconoclasm
12. Looting
13. Necrography
14. ‘The Museum of Weapons, etc
15. Chronopolitics
16. A Declaration of War
17. A Negative Moment
18. Ten Thousand Unfinished Events
Afterword: A Decade of Returns
Appendix One: Provisional List of the Worldwide Locations Of Benin Plaques Looted in 1897
Appendix Two: Sources of Benin Objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (the ‘first collection’
Appendix Three: Sources of Benin Objects in the former Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham (‘the second collection’)
Appendix Four: Current Location of Benin Objects previously in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Farnham (the ‘Second Collection’)
Appendix Five: A Provisional List of Museums, Galleries and Collections that May Currently Hold Objects Looted from Benin City in 1897.
References
Published by Pluto Press in Nov 2020
Hardcover ISBN: 9780745341767
eBook ISBN: 9781786806840

336 pages

150mm x 230mm