HC301H - Loot and Forgeries

Professor:  Roxann Prazniak

4.00 credits

CRN 32948: Wednesday & Friday, 2:00-3:20 @ LIB 322

Modern museums are keepers of public history and culture. We visit museums from grade school on and as we travel to learn about diverse societies and distant times. Opportunities to view fascinating artifacts and beautiful works of art are invaluable to our education and understanding of our place in the world. Yet exactly how are the exhibits we admire acquired and evaluated? Who decides the historical and cultural narratives within which objects are situated and given meaning? While most collections are carefully documented and legitimately secured, controversy surrounds others, raising matters of theft, looting, or forgery. From an ancient Assyrian palace near Mosul (Iraq) a giant winged lion was carted off to the British Museum in London in 1840. What back story surrounds this herculean transport, subsequent history, and conflicting cultural claims today? Planning to celebrate his world conquest with the construction of a spectacular art museum, Hitler ordered the confiscation of hundreds of paintings from Holocaust victims, museums, and art markets, including one work by the great Dutch artist Vermeer that turned out to be a forgery undetected by Nazi art specialists. What happened to these paintings in the post-war international art markets? How are potential cases of theft and forgery sorted by museums and private collectors in London, Tokyo, Paris, New York, or Los Angeles? This course encourages students to select a specific case of disputed authenticity or conflicting historical claims as the centerpiece of their research project. After initial class sessions devoted to common reading and discussion, students will identify and refine their individual research topics. In addition to standard stages of research, such as bibliographic searches in primary and secondary sources and hypothesis building, students will develop their topics through small group sharing of drafts and critical feedback. For our grand finale, everyone will give an oral presentation of their research, gathering further insights from class discussion before writing the final version of their highly polished and thought-provoking research paper.