There exists no authoritative and comprehensive inventory of these cases, and much of what is written about them in the popular press is tendentious and emotionally skewed. Without a transparent index, and associated document archive, it is difficult to identify trends – e.g., numbers of cases; claimant and respondent nations; factual and legal bases of cases – that should inform understanding of the growing political dimension of this area. The primary purpose of the Case Index is, therefore, to provide information that will allow more informed commentary on both high-level trends, and also individual cases, involving ownership and possession of cultural property.

We believe that the availability of the information collected, analyzed and presented in this project will be useful to academics in law and other disciplines who study these cases, and also to journalists and other writers whose commentary may more immediately influence public opinion on possession and ownership of cultural property.

For example:

  • An administrator at a small museum facing a repatriation inquiry or claim from a foreign government might, for instance, benefit from consulting terms of agreements forged by larger museums that have previously dealt with similar demands involving similar objects.
  • A law academic might wish to determine why a disproportionate number of cultural property cases are prosecuted outside national court systems, and examine the underlying reasons for, and efficacy of, this phenomenon.
  • A political scientist might seek to assess whether and how there have been shifts over time in those countries pursuing repatriation of cultural patrimony, and those that have been the targets of such inquiries and claims.
  • Those working in law enforcement, diplomacy, intelligence, and national defense and security might reference the index in assessing political risks associated with cultural property cases depending on nation of origin and/or function of the objects in question.