Academic Facilitation of the Trade in Asian Cultural Objects

Abstract: This lecture will explore several case studies that exemplify how academic expertise facilitates illicit trade in cultural objects. We will examine the passive and active facilitative role that academics have played in the creation of taste and market demand for Asian cultural objects in the USA, UK and Europe. The lecture will further highlight the continued impact of these experts on the way Asian cultural objects are displayed, published, owned, traded, and accessed today. Special attention is paid to the material and non-material lives of cultural objects, for example, the exploitation of their digitization in the name of ‘education’. It then examines how museum representatives and academics alike should address the exploitative and colonial foundations of the knowledge creation processes surrounding the objects they work with, and how restoring agency over, access to and ownership of cultural objects serves as a step towards justice for communities of origin. 

Biography: Dr Emiline Smith is a Lecturer in Criminology at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow (Scotland). She is a Fellow at the Centre for Criminology of Hong Kong University, and a member of the Trafficking Culture Research Consortium, UK Blue Shield and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. In addition, she advises several non-/governmental organisations on issues regarding the protection and repatriation of cultural and natural resources.

Emiline’s research focuses on the looting and trafficking of cultural and natural resources, primarily in Asia. Emiline obtained a Ph.D. in Criminology from the University of Glasgow, where she explored how Hong Kong functions as a transit port for cultural objects. Her research has been published in numerous journal articles, book chapters, and media articles, and has been funded by a variety of prestigious funding bodies, including the UK Global Challenges Research Fund, the Scottish Government, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Price Bernard Culture Fund and U21.

Emiline’s current project focuses on conceptualizations of justice as related to the securitization and repatriation of looted and stolen cultural objects. She recently authored and published a trilingual storybook for children titled Pema and the Stolen Statue from Dolpa, which was distributed for free to all Dolpa (Nepal) schools and is available via donation for those outside Dolpa. For more information, see  

Pitt Rivers Museum Research Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, Michaelmas 2023

Fridays, 12pm-1.30pm

In person at the Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre, except for Weeks 6 and 8, which are online only.

Convened by Elizabeth Hallam and Clare Harris