Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Susan L. Woodward

Committee Members

John Krinsky

Patricia Mathews

Mary Roldán

Erin Thompson

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Comparative Politics | Latin American History | Latin American Studies | Other History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Other Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


Restitution, cultural heritage, nationalism, cultural policy, UNESCO, Indigenous communities


My research explores the reasons why three Latin American states (Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) claim the return of cultural heritage objects from holding institutions in the Western World, such as museums and universities. The literature on returns and restitutions, which focuses on questions of ownership and possession of objects, opposes two conceptions of cultural heritage: on the one hand, the internationalists argue that the location of a cultural object must be decided according to the interests of science and education, for the benefit and in the name of humankind; on the other hand, the nationalists consider that cultural heritage is constitutive of the identity of each nation, which gives nation-states the role of primary caregivers of this heritage. Focusing on the domestic politics of return claims in six case studies (two per country), my dissertation is the first in-depth analysis of the nationalist side of this debate. First, I demonstrate that return claims continue the process of construction of national discourse in Latin America through the appropriation of the remains of pre-Columbian cultures. Second, I use a historical-institutionalist approach to analyze how return claims are best understood as the culmination of a process of institutional strengthening to care for the national heritage. Finally, I examine the policy communities that support these claims for return within each country and shed a new light on the practice of return by analyzing the beliefs and agency of a series of actors (civil society individuals, experts, executive authorities of the state, Indigenous communities, holding institutions) and their role in the formulation and resolution of return claims. Overall, my research offers explanations for the reasons why Latin American states seek the return of the remains of the past; the timing of these claims, which have become more prominent since the late twentieth century; and the variations in outcome among the different claims.

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