The Colonial War Booties and the Challenges of their Restitution

This website presents an international and interdisciplinary research project focused on colonial war booties. By "booty" we term objects whose collection during an episode of the colonial conquest, during a war, a punitive expedition, a police operation or any action expressly bellicose has been proved.

If one intends to focus on the European colonial conquest, we will discuss also other relevant situations of expansionism, such as spolia seized during the Japanese or Ottoman imperial expansion, as well as more isolated cases linked to rather local conflicts that led to the acquisition of spoils of wars.

Apart from the items that have already been returned, most colonial loot is still in the collections of Western museums. If this presence is a problem, the repatriation is not always the solution, especially if the return is not accompanied by a comprehensive approach.

In this project, in prolongation of a reflection that has begun in 2006, we will continue to conduct a series of investigations on a case by case basis, focusing a representative sample of the variety of situations of looting, in order to best describe: 1) the conditions of that very collection, 2) the route these objects followed, 3) the conservation policies implemented by their new owners as well as the 4) challenges of the related restitution claims, when they arise. We will thus proceed to the reconstruction of the biography of the objects, from their manufacture to their enrolment in various complex socio-political situations that mark their "lives".

We will pay particular attention to memory processes and the challenges of their present re-enactments through the restitution claims that have proliferated in recent years (and have been satisfied for some). In this regard, we will centralize publications, legal decisions, conferences that have been made in this regard since 2000: an annotated bibliography will be established and a review of existing research on this topic will be compacted.

We will also look at contemporary cultural expressions, to capture the symbolic reflection of a still active memory.

To carry out this research project, we want to implement a collaborative network of several research centers (located in former colonial countries and ancient colonial centers), in order to bring together historians, anthropologists, art historians, curators museum and community representatives or militant movements (notably under the supervision of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation/UNESCO).

This multidisciplinary project will be accompanied by various publications and a reference book. An exhibition presenting the spoils could be an opportunity for a possible development.