What should happen to the treasures of the British Museum?

What should happen to the treasures of the British Museum?

Fionn Hargreaves reports on UCLU Debating Society’s public debate, ‘This House Would Return the British Museum’s Cultural Treasures to their Countries of Origin’

The issue of whether or not to return British Museum treasures like the Elgin Marbles to their countries of origin is a hotly debated topic.

On Monday evening, UCLU Debating Society waded into the argument during their weekly public debate.

From Tolkien allusions to extremist political regimes, the issue was well argued by the expert debaters invited to speak.

Proposition speakers Gavin O’Leary and Peer Klussendorf launched the debate in a lively manner, likening Britain to the dragon Smaug from ‘The Hobbit’, ‘perched over a nest of gold, breathing fire at all who enter and all who would dare claim treasure that we have conquered and captured from the world’.

Elgin marbles debate 1

O’Leary maintained in his speech that Britain should give treasures back to all politically peaceful and stable nations, whilst holding artefacts ‘in trust’ for volatile or warring countries.

Venturing into philosophical ground, the proposition staked that the communities within which these objects were created owned the artefacts, by culturally informing their creation.

Second proposition Peer Klussendorf took this one step further, arguing that the greatest cultural learning could be achieved by placing these objects in their immediate context.

With calls of damage and extremist appropriation, Opposition speakers Cerys Bradley and Eliot Pallot convincingly countered their colleagues’ arguments.

Bradley put forth the claim that moving the artefacts from the British Museum would only cause damage to the objects themselves, maintaining that it would be easier for the Greeks to fly to London to see the Elgin Marbles, rather than travel to ‘incredibly obscure places’.

Elgin marbles debate 2

The problems associated with the looting of artefacts in volatile countries was discussed in heavy detail, with Bradley damning the Proposition by stating:

“It has been estimated that this is fuelling about 40% of the Islamic State. So we would like to hear from the Proposition whether or not they actually support the Islamic State.”

An argument further developed by second opposition Eliot Pallot concerned the use of these treasures in the pursuit of nationalistic propaganda, where the example of Grecian extremist group Golden Dawn was heavily mentioned.

This argument caused consternation from the Greeks in the audience, expressed in a floor speech and through the #ucludebating hashtag on Twitter.


In the Opposition’s mind, the British Museum provides the least subjective, comparative environment in which these objects can be studied.

However, the most entertaining suggestion for the resolution of the issue was put forward by Abstention in the rounds of floor speeches.

They called for a super-museum to be built either in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean or in Switzerland, the eternally neutral nation.

After a well-argued and engaging debate, the opposition won over the majority of the audience with 51 votes.

Proposition came in second with 26 votes, with 14 Abstentions.

Featured image credit: Andrew Dunn/ Wikipedia

The views and opinions expressed by the speakers may not be their own personal opinions. Each speaker was prescribed a side to argue the case for.

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