How will these resources help you?

The future of the Benin Bronzes raises important questions for pupils about how we view the impact and legacy of empire and also about the responsibility and role of museums, governments and individuals in the post-colonial world we now live in. These issues are becoming increasingly important to debate in schools as we navigate uncomfortable histories and attempt to respond to changing views of the past. Looking at the long-term impact of colonialism through debate about the restoration of artefacts to their original owners is not one often covered by textbooks, and few resources on the topic currently exist. As well as discussing the Benin Bronzes, further links could be made to the debate surrounding other looted artefacts, for example works of art taken by Nazi Germany, and the way the law has changed to support their restitution.

Background on the Kingdom of Benin

BBC Bitesize: Kingdom of Benin

published by BBC Bitesize

This BBC guide (originally written for KS2 students) has an excellent introduction that is suitable for secondary students. In three short sections, the material covers how the kingdom was organised, life in Benin and the artwork produced, including a short animation on how the art was made and a slideshow of art objects. (A fourth section looks at the other West African kingdoms).

The legacy of the British Empire and the future of the Benin Bronzes

Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes

by Barnaby Phillips, published by Oneworld, (2021), 9781786079350

This fascinating and thought-provoking book gives a detailed account of the history of the Benin Bronzes and their importance to the Kingdom of Benin. It draws on a wide variety of evidence to explain the reasons for the 1897 British expedition to Benin and the looting of artefacts that followed. Important questions are raised about the conduct of the British soldiers at the time, and about the numerous individual attempts by the Oba (ruler) of Benin and the Nigerian government to reclaim the Benin Bronzes. The preface provides a compelling picture of what the loss of the artefacts means to the people of Benin today – you could use this as a starting point for discussion.

UK museums in the context of Black Lives Matter

How UK museums are responding to Black Lives Matter

by Will Gompertz, published by BBC News, (29 June 2020)

The article (and four-minute video clip) quotes academics, curators and an artist on their opinions on the future of museums within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it could be used to inspire further debate with pupils.

How the Bronzes arrived in Britain and reactions to their arrival

Civilisations: Benin Bronzes

published by BBC, presented by David Olusoga, (2018)

This five-minute video clip from the BBC Four Civilisations series offers a rich source for discussion on the foundations of empire. It describes how Victorians responded to the exhibition of the Benin Bronzes at the British Museum and how the Bronzes arrived in Britain. The clip reveals the confusion of exhibition visitors on seeing the art, and how the art evidences the earlier relationship of trade between Africa and Europe in its depiction of European faces. You can access this clip by signing up to ERA using your institution details.

Further Materials


Give Us Back What Our Ancestors Made by Victor Ehikhamenor, published by The New York Times, (28 January 2020) Read this article
Legacy Restoration Trust projects (including its flagship project the EDO Museum of West African Art), published by the Legacy Restoration Trust Visit this website
Benin Dialogue Group press statement, published by Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK), (12 August 2020) Read this press statement
Digital Benin: Reconnecting Royal Art Treasures, published by Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK) Visit this website
UK university’s return of looted Benin Bronze puts pressure on other institutions by Fatima Manji, published by Channel 4 News, (31 March 2021) Watch this video
 Rebecca Jarvis is an experienced secondary school history teacher who has taught in her current school for 15 years. She is also a GCSE senior examiner.

Text © Rebecca Jarvis, 2021.