HC301H - Loot and Forgery: Controversies in Art and History

Professor: Roxann Prazniak

4.00 credits

  • CRN 22404: Monday & Wednesday, 2:00-3:20pm @ CHA 301

If you are looking for an offbeat topic that has become very central to our global economic and cultural present, you might try this one.  In this course we look at cases of forgery and looting that take us from South America to Scandinavia and many places in between.  While most museum collections are carefully documented and legitimately secured, controversy surrounds others, raising matters of theft, looting, and forgery. Forgeries have long been a problem for museums, but today it has become so rampant that a museum in London recently decided to own up to the issue by doing an exhibit on forgeries detected in its own collection.  The Economist, a well-known journal that tracks global investments, has a recent issue on how it is easier than one might think to steal art from major museums.  How does this happen? Who are the players? The line between forgery and looting can also be blurred.  Artifacts stolen from cultural sites in Peru or Oklahoma make their way to world-class museums within days of their removal from local sites and may be subject to forgery as well. Does Artificial Intelligence with its ability to creativity collect/steal images and reassemble them put the traditional forger out of business? 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. Exactly how are the exhibits we admire acquired?  Who decides the historical and cultural narratives within which objects are situated and given meaning?  Museums in Athens and London have been trying to sort out that last question for over a hundred years regarding the famed Parthenon marbles.

While the topic of loot and forgery provides a core of fascinating material in its own right, this course is designed primarily to teach basic research skills in the social sciences.  Students interested in economics, political science, art history, history, international law, archeology, anthropology, museum studies, marine sciences, computer sciences, and related studies will find topics of interest in this section of HC 301.  After we examine several cases studies together, you will select a topic of particular interest to develop your research project.  Through individual consultation and group workshop process, we will help each other define a topic, identify primary and secondary sources, and construct strong thesis statements. Within these parameters, there are no limits on geography or chronology for your choice of research topic. 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 polished and thought-provoking research paper.