Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended up in Museums – And Why They Should Stay There

An outstanding achievement, clear-headed, wide-ranging and incisive.’ – John Carey, Sunday Times

‘Courageous and well-argued.’ – Henrik Bering, Wall Street Journal. keeping-their-marbles

‘Anyone who thinks that issues of cultural property and “repatriation” are simple should read this book. Jenkins elegantly explores the complexity of individual cases such as the Elgin Marbles and of the big overarching question: who owns culture?’ – Mary Beard, author of SPQR: A history of Ancient Rome

Keeping Their Marbles is a full-throated argument against the repatriation of arguably stolen art and artifacts. To say that it is controversial is a severe understatement,’ Stefan Beck, Weekly Standard 

‘The dubious means by which museum collections were gathered has fuelled the demands for treasures to be repatriated. Surely they ought to be returned? No, says Tiffany Jenkins, a culture writer, and she marshals a powerful case.’ – Robbie Millen, the Times

‘This book is both a lucid account of how the great world museums came by their treasures and a robust argument as to why (human remains such as bones aside) they should keep them.’ – Michael Prodger, RA Magazine

‘Tiffany Jenkins applies her considerable experience of cultural policy to construct an excellent survey … Her level-headed and balanced book … is a valuable contribution to the international debate, and will enrich audiences and scholars for a long time to come.’ – Mark Fisher, Spectator

‘Jenkins skillfully critiques the manifold issues that beleaguer museums today.’ – David Lowenthal, Evening Standard

‘Jenkins does an excellent job of portraying the extreme reactions elicited by repatriation conversations.’ – David Hurst Thomas, Nature

‘Jenkins’s book provides a welcome introduction to some of the questions facing museums today.’ – William St Clair, Literary Review

‘The question of how best to protect the world’s cultural heritage, and what role museums, nations states, and international bodies play in doing so, or in not doing so, is a vexed one. And in the time of IS, it is an urgent one. Tiffany Jenkins sets out a clear, compelling, and at times controversial case for museums as repositories and interpreters of the past. She argues that we are asking too much of our museums, that we want them to serve narrow ideological purposes of cultural and political identity. There is much to agree with in this argument, and of course, much with which to disagree. That’s what makes this book a must-read.’ – James Cuno, art historian, author, and President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

Books of the year 2016 – Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald
[An] eloquent defence of museums … The arguments in this book are well-considered and not just one-sided … A well-researched and thought-provoking take on a very complex and controversial subject. Using an array of captivating examples, the book addresses a range of broader heritage issues such as treatment of human remains, the role of museums today and how to protect the past. – Lucia Marchini, Minerva.

The fabulous collections housed in the world’s most famous museums are trophies from an imperial age. Yet the huge crowds that each year visit the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, or the Metropolitan in New York have little idea that many of the objects on display were acquired by coercion or theft.

Now the countries from which these treasures came would like them back. The Greek demand for the return of the Elgin Marbles is the tip of an iceberg that includes claims for the Benin Bronzes from Nigeria, sculpture from Turkey, scrolls and porcelain taken from the Chinese Summer Palace, textiles from Peru, the bust of Nefertiti, Native American sacred objects and Aboriginal human remains.

In Keeping Their Marbles, Tiffany Jenkins tells the bloody story of how western museums came to acquire these objects. She investigates why repatriation claims have soared in recent decades and demonstrates how it is the guilt and insecurity of the museums themselves that have stoked the demands for return. Contrary to the arguments of campaigners, she shows that sending artefacts ‘back’ will not achieve the desired social change nor repair the wounds of history.

Instead, this ground-breaking book makes the case for museums as centres of knowledge, demonstrating that no object has a single home and no one culture owns culture.

Political Culture, Soft Interventions and Nation Building

political culture book

Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority published by Routledge, explores the influences at play on the controversy over human remains.



Jenkins, T. (2016) ‘Making an Exhibition of Ourselves: Using the Dead to Fight the Battles of the Living’ In Howard Williams and Melanie Giles (eds) Archaeologists and the Dead , Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, T. (ed) (2013) Special Issue on Cultural Interventions Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding (7), 2.

Jenkins, T. (2012) Old Skeletons, Pagans and Museums: Why human remains are a bone of contention. Book chapter in: Best, J. and Harris, S. New Images, New Issues: Constructing social problems in a new century. Lynne Reinner Publishers.

Jenkins, T. (2012) “Who are we to decide?” The targeting of professional authority in the contestation over human remains in British museums, Journal of Cultural Sociology 6 (3).

Jenkins, T. (2012) ‘ Inverting the Nation at the British Museum ‘ Conference paper at ‘Great Narratives of Past Traditions and Revisions in National Museums. Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Paris 28 June – 1 July & 25–26 November 2011

Jenkins, T. (2011) Just Say No: You Cannot Be Too Careful In Embracing Disposal’ in Davies, P.(ed) Museums and the Disposals Debate. MuseumsEtc

Jenkins, T. (2011) ‘Re-envisioning a Common, Capable Public’, Curator: The Museum Journal. Vol: 52 No.1 January.

Jenkins, T. (2008) Dead bodies: the changing treatment of human remains in British museum collections and the challenge to the traditional model of the museum. Mortality, 13(2) pp. 105–118.

Jenkins, T. (2007) Victims Remembered. In: Watson, S. ed. Museums and their Communities. London: Routledge, pp. 448-451.

Jenkins, T. (2006) Passion and Possession: a museum polemic. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief, 2 (3) pp. 353-358.

Jenkins, T. (2006) The Question of Sacred Items and Their Censure in Museums. Nuances: Newsletter of the Association for the Respect for the Integrity of Artistic Heritage (36-37) (Trans. Christine Vermont):17-20.

Jenkins, T. (2004) Human Remains: objects to study or ancestors to bury? Occasional Paper. London: Institute of Ideas.

Jenkins, T. (2003) Dead Heads: medical and artistic attitudes towards the dead body, in: Kaplan, J. ed. Exhumed at the Museum of Garden History. London: Parabola Press. pp.14-16.

Jenkins, T. (2002) ed. Alternative Medicine: Should We Swallow It? London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Jenkins, T. (2002) ed. Ethical Tourism: Who Benefits? London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Jenkins, T., Lee, E. (2002) eds. Teenage Sex: What Should Schools Teach Children? London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Jenkins, T. (2002) Management Speak Critical Quarterly (44) 4: 17-20.


Jenkins, T. (2009) Review: Return to Alexandria: An Ethnography of Cultural Heritage, Revivalism, and Museum Memory, by Beverley Butler. Museum History Journal, 2(1) pp.105-106.

Jenkins, T. (2008) Review: Human Remains Dissection and its Histories by Helen Macdonald. Mortality 13(1) pp. 85-86.

Jenkins, T. (2008) Review: Andy Warhol: A Celebration of Life…and Death Royal Museum of Scotland. Mortality, 13(4) pp. 373 – 374.

Jenkins, T. (2008) Review: Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities, by Paul Williams. The Museums Journal. February.