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Who Owns the Past?

an artifact
Lesson Plan Author(s): 
Thomas Nitz
Museum Artifacts
Grade Level: 
Teaching Level: 
Middle Childhood
Origins Item(s): 

This lesson focuses on the issue of ethics in museum acquisition of pieces of cultural heritage. Because students at this grade level have not likely encountered this hot-button issue before, the lesson specifically deals with introducing the concept of cultural heritage, and the debate on “theft” of such heritage, in ways that young students may more easily relate to. The Origins article students use in this lesson describes several pieces of cultural heritage which are located in museums far away from their places of origin, while also relaying complications and controversies in the ethics of their “repatriation”.
The lesson begins with a clip from the popular film Black Panther in order to illustrate the relevance of the topic and generate discussion. The instructor then guides the students to identify examples of three kinds of cultural heritage from their own national, state, and local cultures. On the second day of the lesson, students discuss how they would feel if some of those examples of cultural heritage were taken away from them. After, they complete a stations activity wherein they read and consider real-world examples of cultural theft and repatriation. Students demonstrate their learning by generating the aforementioned examples and arguing who should get to keep cultural heritage.

Instructional Strategies:
• Whole-Class Discussion
• Think-Pair-Share
• Stations


Key Words: 
Museum, repatriation, cultural heritage