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Research Guides@Tufts

Tufts University Art Galleries: re:imagining collections.: Glossary of Terms

Jan 24 - Apr 23, 2023. Medford and Boston


Provenance is an object’s ownership history, from its creation up through the present. When provenance is not entirely known, we cannot always ascertain the object was acquired by previous owners under ethical pretenses. Definition Source

Cultural Patrimony

Cultural Patrimony is any object that harbors historical, traditional, or cultural importance to its culture in question. While property is owned by an individual, cultural patrimony is of central pertinence to the culture’s collective identity. Cultural patrimony are obvious candidates for repatriation. Definition Source

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

Cultural Heritage

Cultural Heritage is a broad term referring to the tangible and intangible “assets” that are passed down from previous generations in a particular culture. Tangible heritage  includes heritage sites, or works of art and artifacts, whereas intangible heritage includes folklore, traditions, and knowledge. Cultural patrimony falls under the umbrella of tangible cultural heritage.  Definition Source

UNESCO 1970 Convention

1970  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 

The 1970 UNESCO Convention was established as a way to provide a comprehensive framework for the protection of cultural property. The convention provides cultural property with greater protection than the 1954 Hague Convention. The central principles of the convention are prevention, the return and restitution of cultural property, and international cooperation. Prevention includes measures such as establishment of inventories, export certificates, controls and approval of traders, criminal or administrative sanctions, and information and education campaigns. The return and restitution of cultural property is one of the convention’s fundamental goals and is reflected in many of the convention’s articles. International cooperation can include a variety of measures such as bilateral treaties, that further international cooperation against the illicit traffic of cultural property.  Definition Source


Accessioning is the formal process by which a museum accepts and documents a new acquisition to its permanent collection. Definition Source


Deaccessioning is a museum’s process of removing an object from the permanent collection. Museums hold objects “in perpetuity,” meaning an object’s candidacy for deaccessioning in contigent on several stringent criteria. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) mandates the following parameters for deaccessioning. • “The decision to deaccession is made solely to improve the quality, scope, and appropriateness of the collection, and to support the mission and long-term goals of the museum; • Proceeds from a deaccessioned work are used only to acquire other works of art—the proceeds are never used as operating funds, to build a general endowment, or for any other expenses.” Defintion Source