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Oxbridge Support Sessions: "Disputed Ownership of Significant Historical Artefacts"

The History department recently had the opportunity to run a series of sessions to support Year 13 students, as they prepare to apply for the university of their choice. Mrs. Lowry invited interested students to discuss the theme of "Disputed ownership of significant historical artefacts".

Oxbridge Support Session 2

The primary aim of the session was to engage with a real world issue concerning three case studies of historical artefacts that are currently in Britain, but whose ownership is contested. They include the Kohinoor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles and the Head of Benin. After the historical context was introduced, students were offered a range of resources, including a Ted talk by a museum curator, textbooks, websites and emails between Mrs. Lowry and a museum in Britain, which currently holds one of the artefacts. Mr. Josh Dale from Primary attended and gave some valuable insights as to the legal aspects of this topic. 


We explored some important issues, including some of the following questions:

  • Does the manner of acquisition and its legality (or lack thereof) cease to count, when all the original owners and subsequent owners are gone? Is possession nine tenths of the law?
  • How can ownership be proven/resolved in the absence of a contract, or international lawmakers to resolve disputes and enforce decisions?
  • What is the purpose of a museum, and do they have a moral responsibility to return artefacts to their original owners if requested?'
  • Are these items now part of British culture and history too? Or do these items still carry the same meaning when taken from their place of origin?
  • Would returning one item lead to a domino effect, with all other artefacts being returned?
  • Does each case study have the same arguments for and against repatriation? Or does each have to be dealt with on a case by case basis?
  • If the country trying to reclaim the items are able to store and protect these items to the same standard, do all arguments cease to matter?
  • Oxbridge Support Session 2
  • Oxbridge Support Session 2
  • Oxbridge Support Session 2
  • Oxbridge Support Session 2
  • Oxbridge Support Session 2

Students in attendance really did engage with the topic with confidence, showing real commitment to the IB learner profile characteristics of being open minded, principled and were excellent communicators. It was a pleasure to lead the sessions and we wish all students the best of luck in their university applications, regardless of destination. 

Mrs. Rachael Lowry
Head of History