Tiffany Jenkins is a writer, author and broadcaster. Her next book Strangers and Intimates: The Rise and Fall of Private Life – will be published in 2023 by Picador. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended Up in Museums and Why They Should Stay There (OUP) reviewed in the Sunday Times as “an outstanding achievement, clear-headed, wide-ranging and incisive.” She is also author of Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority, and editor of Political Culture: Soft Interventions and Nation Building. She hosts the Behind the Scenes at the Museum podcast.
With the Smithsonian saying it is getting rid of all its Benin Bronzes, the enthusiasts for so called “Repatriation” see this as setting in motion an irresistible movement that will coerce British museums into doing the same. It has become a huge symbolic issue alongside the issues over the Elgin marbles.
In this Exclusive #podcast for the History Reclaimed podcast series Tiffany tell us why she thinks the debate about so called “Reclamation” is more nuanced than most might think and that her views on it have evolved over the years. She questions whether we genuinely want to “learn from the past or just be told off” about it. Surprisingly she doesn’t believe that it is necessarily tied to the debates about slave trader’s statues and the legacy of the British Empire but more about the fact that Museums have lost their sense of “purpose” over the years.
“Rather than atone for the past, which I don’t think you can, you can research it but that has become hard today because history has become so moralised. This debate sometimes adds to the moralisation. So no you can’t atone for the past but the best thing you can do is think about who created the artefacts and what they meant to people then and what they mean to people now? It’s an opening up of knowledge and that’s what I think museums can do and what objects can do.”