There exists no authoritative or comprehensive inventory of disputes over ownership of cultural artifacts initiated by national governments, and much of what is written about them in the popular press, and in online fora, is tendentious. It is, therefore, difficult to identify trends – e.g., numbers of cases; claimant and respondent nations; factual and legal bases of cases, means of resolution, etc. – that should inform understanding of the growing political dimension of this area. Accordingly, the primary purpose of the Case Index is to provide information to support more informed commentary on both high-level trends, and also individual cases, relating to disputes over ownership and possession of cultural artifacts.

The greater the number of cases documented in the Case Index, the greater the legitimacy of inferences, trends, projections, etc. based on the Index data. Accordingly, at this early stage of the project, our primary goal is to document the greatest number of disputes as swiftly as possible. Given this goal, and modest financial resources, readers should be aware that many of the existing case records are incomplete and/or unpolished. Capitalizing upon the flexibility of a digital format, we will not only continue to add cases not yet documented, but also will edit and amplify existing records. Of course we welcome suggestions and documentation readers are willing to share.

The CPDR provides non-partisan information, with the objective to inform all perspectives on cultural property cases, past and current. Partisan and personal views may be expressed in commentary that readers are encouraged to submit, and respond to, on the CPDR blog.

We believe that the availability of the information collected, analyzed and presented in this project will be useful to academics in law and other disciplines who study these cases, and also to journalists and other writers whose commentary may more immediately affect public opinion on possession and ownership of cultural property.

For example:

An administrator at a small museum facing a repatriation inquiry or claim from a foreign government might, for instance, benefit from consulting terms of agreements forged by larger museums that have previously dealt with similar demands involving similar objects.

A law academic might wish to determine why a disproportionate number of cultural property cases are prosecuted outside national court systems, and examine the underlying reasons for, and efficacy of, this phenomenon.

A political scientist might seek to assess whether and how there have been shifts over time in those countries pursuing repatriation of cultural patrimony, and those that have been the targets of such inquiries and claims.

Those working in law enforcement, diplomacy, intelligence, and national defense and security might reference the index in assessing political risks associated with cultural property cases depending on nation of origin and/or function of the objects in question.