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Manchester Museum recently returned items taken from Australia more than 100 years ago to Aboriginal leaders, the latest move in an ongoing debate over calls to "repatriate" museum artifacts to their countries of origin.
It's part of a wider discussion over to what degree museums need to reform and "decolonize" away from displaying collections that were gathered or stolen from other countries during the colonial era, in a way that portrays foreign cultures as strange or inferior and other nations as unsuitable possessors of the world's cultural heritage and knowledge. Major institutions including the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum have been caught up in the debate.
Way - Forward - Technologies - People - Access
One way forward may be found in digital technologies that can enable people to access representations of other cultures in fair, interesting ways, without cultural institutions needing to hold on to controversial artifacts. For example, with 3-D imaging and 3-D printing we can produce digital and physical copies of artifacts, allowing visitors to study and interact with them more closely than ever before.
Copying artifacts has a surprisingly long history. Many ancient Greek statues that we have today are actually Roman copies made hundreds of years after the originals. Famous Renaissance artists' workshops regularly produced copies of artwork. In the 19th century, museums produced copies through processes that involved making a mold of the original item, such as casting and electrotyping. The famous diplodocus skeleton "Dippy" actually exists as a number of copies in museums all over the world.
Today - Technology - Art - Museums - Budgets
Today, digital technology has democratized the art of copying so it isn't limited to big museums with generous budgets or top experts with specialist knowledge. Accessible digitization technologies, such as photogrammetry and 3-D scanning, can digitally record the shape of objects to a good degree of accuracy. And 3-D printing and cutting machines can physically reproduce...
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