The Culture of Property

The Crisis of Liberalism in Modern Britain

Jordanna Bailkin

The Culture of Property
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Jordanna Bailkin

516 pages | 20 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2004
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226035505 Published July 2004
What kind of property is art? Is it property at all? Jordanna Bailkin's The Culture of Property offers a new historical response to these questions, examining ownership disputes over art objects and artifacts during the crisis of liberalism in the United Kingdom. From the 1870s to the 1920s, Britons fought over prized objects from ancient gold ornaments dug up in an Irish field to a portrait of the Duchess of Milan at the National Gallery in London. They fought to keep these objects in Britain, to repatriate them to their points of origin, and even to destroy them altogether. Bailkin explores these disputes in order to investigate the vexed status of property within modern British politics as well as the often surprising origins of ongoing institutional practices. Bailkin's detailed account of these struggles illuminates the relationship between property and citizenship, which has constituted the heart of liberal politics as well as its greatest weakness.

Drawing on court transcripts, gallery archives, exhibition reviews, private correspondence—and a striking series of cartoons and photographs—The Culture of Property traverses the history of gender, material culture, urban life, colonialism, Irish and Scottish nationalism, and British citizenship. This fascinating book challenges recent scholarship in museum studies in light of ongoing culture wars. It should be required reading for cultural policy makers, museum professionals, and anyone interested in the history of art and Britain.

Historians of British Art: Historians of British Art Book Prize
Short Listed

View Recent Awards page for more award winning books.
Holger Hoock | American Historical Review

"This lucidly written and handsomely produced volume offers valuable insights in how museums at certain moments crystallize wider debates about the relationship among politics, culture, and gender. . . . Bailkin has opened up many lines of inquiry in the historical context of museological practice and debate and the wider poilitics of culture of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain."


"An original, truly interdisciplinary book that draws on British history, art history, museum studies, law, and women's studies in an investigation of the 'material culture of Liberalism' in Britain from 1870 to 1914. . . . The book contains much fascinating material and reflects extensive research in museum archives, legal recoreds, newspapers, journals, and parliamentary debates."

Michael Rubenstein | Law, Culture, and the Humanities
"Bailkin's book will speak to anyone interested in the fraught cultural consolidation of the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, or in the vagaries between the nation and the state."
Jonah Siegel | Victorian Studies
"While we have become accustomed to simple assertions of the essentially political nature of all aesthetic controversies, Jordanna Bailkin offers an incontestable and extremely interesting version of the relationship."
Stephen Heathorn | Left History
"Bailkin asks some fascinating and provocative questions, and complicates our understanding of culture and its relationship to politics. Indeed, she successfully adds the cultural realm to the story of the 'crisis' of liberalism."
C. Whitehead | Urban History
"A sophisticated, innovative study and a welcome addition to the literature."
Susan Scafidi | Law and History Review
"Taken togerther these four studies offer a  multilayered perspective on the role of cultural artifacts within the Liberal imagination of a British nation. . . . [Bailkin] succeeds in adding a new dimension to the common postcolonial analysis of cultural property."
Julie F. Codell | Visual Culture in Review
"Bailkin offers a model of analysis of the political and institutional inflections that shape visual culture. . . . She refreshingly presents politics through the lens of culture, rather than the more usual other way around, insisting that culture is as powerful a molder and marker of change and conbfilct as politics or economics."
Susan Scafidi | Law and History Review
"Taken together these four studies offer a multilayered perspective on the role of cultural artifacts within the Liberal imagination of a British nation prior to World War I. . . . [Bailkin] succeeds in adding a new dimension to the common postcolonial analysis of cultural property."Susan Scafidi, Law and History Review
List of Illustrations
1. Celtic Gold: The Irish Invention of Repatriation
2. The Art of the Stateless Nation: The National Galleries of Scotland Bill
3. Picturing Feminism, Selling Liberalism: The Case of Disappearing Holbein
4. Civics and "Civi-otics" at the London Museum
Works Cited
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