SAFE’s second book history symposium addressed the issue of book and manuscript ownership and consisted of experts in the field of law and book specialists.

On April 6, 2008 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted SAFE’s second book history symposium entitled “HOMEWARD BOUND: Returning Displaced Books and Manuscripts” which addressed the issue of book and manuscript ownership. Speakers presented three twenty-minute papers ranging in topics from the history of the repatriated Medieval Icelandic manuscripts to the contested Iraqi Jewish Archive discovered in Baghdad in 2003. The differences between ‘cultural property’ and ‘cultural heritage’ were also addressed as were such questions as: How does the debate over the identification and repatriation of art and antiquities impact the world of books? How should libraries and private collectors treat books and manuscripts with questionable provenance? Should unique or looted items be returned to their countries of origins? What do case studies of recent and pending book returns reveal about the current climate of cultural heritage ownership and stewardship?

Organized by Irina Tarsis, the event was well attended and sparked a discussion as to how the model of the amicable return of Icelandic manuscripts could be applied to other situations where ownership is unclear or contested.

Who has rights to Iraqi Jewish Archive, those who wish them to return to Baghdad, as originally contracted, or those who believe they should stay outside the country where members of the dispersed Iraqi Jewish community could access them?

Jeff Spurr, Islamic and Middle East Specialist

Members of the panel:

martinHenry S. Martin III is a Henry N. Ess III Librarian & a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He will moderate the symposium.

 roussinLucille A. Roussin is the founder and director of the Holocaust Restitution Claims Practicum at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, where she teaches a seminar, Remedies for Wartime Confiscation. She also teaches a course on “Art, the Law and Professional Ethics” at the School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is an associate with the firm of McCallion & Associates and earned her law degree in 1996 from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where she was a Belkin Scholar. She was Deputy Research Director of the Art and Cultural Property Team of the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets and was an associate in the Art and International Law Practice Group at Herrick, Feinstein LLP in New York City. In 2001, she negotiated the first restitution of a rare Jewish ritual object to a private family in the United States.


Ken Soehner is the Arthur K. Watson Chief Librarian at the Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He will present welcoming remarks.

Jeffrey B. Spurr is an independent scholar of Islamic textiles, and of the history of photography in the Middle East. During 26 years at Harvard, he developed and managed collections of historical photographs (ca. 1850-1970) of the Middle East and adjacent regions, as well as slide and digital collections documenting Islamic visual culture in all of its dimensions. He has curated several exhibits, and published articles and given papers in both fields, and at the intersection of the two. Jeff has a sustained interest in human rights and cultural heritage, and has focused particularly on the fate of libraries and archives in countries subjected to conflict. In that regard, he has been deeply engaged in such activities in reference to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he initiated and managed the Bosnia Library Project (1996-2005), and Iraq, about which, starting in 2003, he has written and spoken extensively, and has been actively involved in efforts to revive academic libraries.

Patrick J. Stevens is curator of the Fiske Icelandic Collection in the Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections of Cornell University Library. He will present a paper entitled “Compensating Genius: Iceland’s Medieval Manuscripts and their Repatriation from Denmark.”