Welcome to module 12

Learning Objectives


Module 12 will introduce students to some of the famous controversies involving museums in the recent past, while discussing the implications for the profession. These controversies will range from scientific hoaxes, to the support of illegal trafficking of specimens, to ethical questions in acquisitions and repatriations.

By the end of this module students will be able to:

  • Name at least two famous controversies
  • Describe one decision made by Museum professionals that led to these controversies
  • Describe the legal or ethical changes that occurred in the museum profession as a result of those controversies

lecture THEMES

Archaeological / antiquities

Instructor Josh Reuther discusses a few famous hoaxes and scientific controversies in archaeology and issues in illicit trafficking of antiquities associated with museums. (25:58)

paleontology controversies

Instructor Patrick Druckenmiller discusses the history and ramifications of the “Sue Controversy”. Sue is one of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever unearthed and it lies at the heart of a debate over ownership and access of fossils. Museums play a central role in this issue as stewards of publicly owned objects found on federal land. (16:09)

nazi looted art – wwII

The seizure of art by the Nazis during WWII is one of the most notorious controversies of the last 100 years in the realm of art, history, and cultural heritage. For this lecture theme Angela Linn would like you to watch the film The Rape of Europa and read some of the literature that contextualizes the film, while bringing it to the modern day. The Holocaust continues to be one of the biggest tragedies in modern history and the repatriation of the art taken from those oppressed by the Nazis is one small way to help heal the losses felt by those families. It is important that the museum and archives professions have assisted to create tools for museums and families working to return these materials.

natural history

The history of natural history collections is full of controversies and fraud, involving stolen specimens, falsely attributed specimens, and many others. Readings below will highlight a few examples of the people and situations highlighted in the press.


The history of controversies in museums extends across the globe and throughout history. Learn this list of terms to better comprehend the readings and videos for this module.

  1. Looting
  2. Degenerate art
  3. Hoax
  4. Forgery
  5. Falsification
  6. Trafficking
  7. Field Museum of Natural History
  8. Holotype
  9. Führermuseum
  10. Antiquities
  11. Illicit Antiquities
  12. Palaeographer
  13. Patina
  14. The Louvre Museum (aka the Louvre)

Activities / Assignments

Reading / Video content



Rape of Europa – 2008 (1:56:17) – log in at Kanopy with UAF credentials (SSO)

Dinosaur 13 – official trailer



For Exploration:


Log into our course shell in Canvas and go to ‘Quizzes’ on the left side menu.

Take ‘Quiz 12’: Museum Controversies” You will have up to three attempts to match the vocabulary and definitions. Click over to Canvas to take quiz 12.

Meet Up

Time to get together! This is optional but highly encouraged. We will meet via Zoom at 12:30 pm (AKDT) on Friday April 14. The link to the session can be found in this Google Document (you must be part of the class to view the document). If you are unable to join the meeting will be recorded and you will be expected to review the recording prior to writing your discussion post (see below).

Assignment – Discussion

Assignment: Spend some time looking online to see if you can find at least one additional museum controversy we have not named in this module. Share the key elements of what happened and if there were any long-term effects.

  1. Create a new post on this website. Your post should be roughly 500 words and should include an image.  Think about reading and video material from this week and personal experiences you have had to help illustrate your ideas.
  2. At the end of your post, include a question for your fellow students to answer.
  3. Respond to each others’ posts (you will need to respond to/comment on at least two other posts).
  4. Select “12. Controversies Discussion” from the list of discussion categories on the right hand side of your posting window on the dashboard.

Looking Forward

Next week we’ll look at Museums in the North – our challenges and opportunities.

Did you know?

Fun tidbit not to be tested on.

Movie poster from IMDB.

Robbers stole 140 precious objects from Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve, 1985, in the largest heist of pre-Colombian objects in history. The bandits picked a sleepy time when they knew the guards would be distracted by holiday cheer, and grabbed several gold, turquoise, and jade objects, as well as an obsidian monkey-shaped-vase worth over $20 million. Most of the stolen objects were very small and easy to transport, making them especially difficult to track down. —source

You can watch a film about the heist here, starring Gael Garcia Bernal.