Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)


Modern Languages and Literatures


Michael Leruth

Committee Members

Magali Compan

Kelebogile Zvobgo


This thesis will interrogate the relationship between French museums, activists, and the government as it relates to postcolonial restitution of cultural heritage, often stolen from its country of origin under uncertain or exploitative circumstances. I will seek to understand 1) how museums address colonialism and restitution in their public rhetoric, 2) the legal and geopolitical barriers to restitution, and 3) the role of activists. I construct a theory of a pyramid of pressure, theorizing that museums push restitution issues beyond their galleries to larger legal and geopolitical barriers, but that these barriers are now being questioned by increased activism. I hypothesize that restitution is currently driven by the wishes of those in power, but that France is currently experiencing a watershed moment in the restitution debate. As public awareness of repatriation grows, I argue elite control over cultural objects and museums will wane, ushering in a “great return” of objects and a shift in power of the global cultural landscape.