Complementing this affirmation of the museum's universalist role is a revealing essay by Philippe de Montebello, the outgoing director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, highlighting the folly of acceding to nationalist claims for the repatriation of artefacts whose ownership is in dispute. In 1993, for example, the Metropolitan Museum returned to Turkey a spectacular series of silver and gold objects from West Anatolia, the so-called "Lydian Treasure" dating from the sixth century BC, on the grounds that the objects might have been removed illegally from a site in or near the Turkish city of U?ak. The result? Having been accessible to hundreds of thousands of visitors while at the Met, in the half-decade between 2001 and 2006, the Lydian Treasure, now on display in the U?ak town museum, attracted a total of just 769 people.
Similarly, Michael F. Brown, examining the problems involved in exhibiting "indigenous heritage" (in particular, the artefacts created by the aboriginal peoples of Africa, Australia, and Oceania), rejects the common assertion that "cultural heritage" should be regarded as a form of property that should remain "under the exclusive control of its presumed creators and their descendants". These objects, too, have their place in humankind's collective quest to understand its own exotic (and sometimes troubling) diversity.
Of course, as with any volume originating (as this does) in an academic conference, not all the contributions attain the standard set by the best. But the volume nevertheless marks an important advance. After an uncertain, not to say timorous, few decades, the leadership of at least some of our major institutions has found its voice. More than that, it has rediscovered something approaching a set of shared values-and, as Whose Culture? makes clear, it is ready to take on all comers in their defence.