Revised Project Proposal: Of Dubious Origin: The Complexities of Stolen Art Recovery

Working Course Title

Of Dubious Origin: The Complexities of Stolen Art Recovery

Team Members and roles

Carolyn A. McDonough: Project Manager/Researcher/Omeka set-up+data entry+updates

Camilla Skoglie: Web Developer, Visualizations, Researcher/ Omeka

Patty Accarino: Research/ Carto

Pamela Jean Stemberg: Research/ Carto


For our project we propose to create a prototype for an educational component to be used in an academic course concentrated on exploring the complexities surrounding historical art theft, specific to that of the removal of African art during colonialism. This component would be implemented as a required part of the course work and be of an inter-sectional nature relevant to students in history, art history, the digital humanities and well as law. This would enable collaboration between students of different disciplines and provide students with an opportunity to learn about the topic in question as well as explore how to integrate digital tools in their research.

The prototype will explore the artwork maintained in the African Collection at the Quai Branly Museum – Jacques Chirac in Paris and use material disclosed in the “The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics “report of November 2018. The current prototype would serve as a blueprint to be built upon by future students who would enrich the project with their own research findings by investigating other museum collections or exploring questions of repatriation. This collective effort consolidated on a single website would eventually serving as a resource for fellow students and the general public seeking information on looted African art.

Environmental scan

Which problem do we solve?

In general, the online information regarding looted African art is sparse and scattered without a consolidated site of information. A few academic dissertations were found and the research consortium “Trafficking Culture” is another academic resource focused on art crime.  No comprehensive databases have been located thus far but a few websites such as https://news.culturecrime.org/ has a compilation of articles and reports concerning all art theft. https://traffickingculture.org/

However, a brief environmental scan indicates that the looting of African art does not show up as a much-taught subject at universities.

The project would serve two purposes. First, it would give students an opportunity to study a subject that deserves more academic attention. It would also enable students to make a contribution to a valid project while having the opportunity to learn how to use digital tools to assist their work. Eventually the project would fill a gap in online access to information on the subject. Second, although the project is not primarily aimed at the general public, it could serve as a source for individuals interested in obtaining further knowledge.

The return of African artwork has a been a contentious issue for decades and with the above-mentioned report of 2018, which recommend the repatriation of African art held in French museums, this issue will hopefully receive more attention in the future.

What similar projects are there?

To the best of our knowledge there are no similar projects out there. There are probably projects with similar structures created for educational purposes but none dealing with this specific subject matter.

Next week will be dedicated to exploring the “The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics “report, getting an overview of the collection and its history. Decide on how to go forward in regard to building the database. Explore chosen tools and receive training.


What technologies will be used?

The project will make use of the following software:

Carto – for mapping, telling the story of the artwork

Omeka – cataloging the artwork – creating a database unique to the project

Tableau, Flourish Studio – visualizations

The group members have different experiences with different tools, within cataloging, mapping and visualization but would need to get training in the above-mentioned tools. Two members are meeting with the digital librarians next week to receive training on how to use Omeka. Online tutorials and the Digital Fellows are other resources which will sought out.


Phase    Task                                                                       Time Period                      Weeks


1            Research and collection of data                       February                                 2

2            Working with data, database, analysis,         February – March                 4

content writing, data visualizations

3            Website and finalization                                   March – April                       4

4            Preparing for presentation                               May                                         2


The group is communicating on the Lost Art Collective group site on the CUNY Academic Commons.

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