Museums and Repatriation of Objects in Their Collections

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  • The author discusses the crisis concerning the demand for repatriation of Indian relics from American's museums and suggests that a principal problem facing museums -- the need to frequently reexamine activities and redefine purpose -- may be solved in part as museums return the collections in question to their places of origin. Due to financial and spatial limitations, most museums cannot continue to expand their collections indefinitely, nor can they fulfill their commitment to education when required to simultaneously fund the updating of old exhibits and preparation of new exhibits.
  • In addition to the repatriation of exhibits, museums have become more conscious of their ethical responsibilities to host areas and countries in the acquisition of museum objects; study of those objects has increasingly taken place in the field, where the objects remain instead of being transported to the museum. Both of these practices can help museums devote available space and money toward expanding their collections in a discriminate and purposeful manner, as collecting should not cease. However, the author notes that Joseph Henry, first Smithsonian Secretary, commented that the funds of an institution would be inefficiently expended should a costly building be filled with objects to be studied by inactive curators, and suggests that museums should frequently reassess their priorities and budgets in collection, education, and research.


Henry, Joseph 1797-1878


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Chapter is from a 129-page catalog of an exhibition in the Heafitz Hall of the North American Indian of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University; the chapter's author is Director, Office of American Studies, Smithsonian Institution. Bibliographic references are included.

Contained within

The Hall of the North American Indian: Change and Continuity (Catalog)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Acquisitions
  • Museum finance
  • Education
  • Secretaries
  • Ethnology
  • Museums
  • Management
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Museums--Acquisitions
  • Museum curators
  • Management--Museums


North America

Physical description

pgs. 15-18

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