Cultural property and ownership

I’m in fact-checking mode for GREEK KEY. This is a middle stage of my writing process, and I refer to it as fact-checking because that’s easier than calling it “Make sure you got this stuff right or certain people will crawl down your throat and lay clusters of Um-Actually Eggs in your abdomen.”


I check nearly every detail that goes into a book, and I still get shit wrong. For example, in STATE MACHINE, when Pat finds the hidden room with the mildewed cocaine, I checked to make sure that cocaine can go bad. Yup! It’s an organic substance, and it will rot over time. But wait, there’s more. My copyeditor double-checked with Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline, and found that cocaine has strong antiseptic properties, so it’s not as likely to mildew unless it’s cut with something that dilutes these properties. Easily fixed with some minor edits…but.

A book is made of a lot of…buts.*

Currently, I’m fact-checking details of provenance for GREEK KEY. I’m fascinated by ideas of ownership regarding cultural property. I’ll point you to this short article, “Provenance Factors for Antiquities Acquisition” by Myren (2010), in which the author discusses the many different ways to perceive ownership of items whose creators are long since dust. I have a few problems with this article, especially the idea that moral claims to items which uphold and preserve cultural heritage are “farfetched” (p.9), but it’s an excellent overview of the issues that need to be addressed when antiquities are bought and sold.

Done reading it? What? No? Okay, let’s take this sourced line: “Recognizing that there are multiple views of cultural property is tantamount to identifying the stakeholders involved” (p.10).  Or, how you perceive an unique item with cultural value may reflect on how you think formal ownership of that item can and should be delegated.

From a writer’s perspective, this is freakin’ fascinating. It’s basically a tailor-made opportunity for insight into characters’ motivations.

Hypothetically speaking (*cough*cough*), let’s say Hope, Mike, and Speedy locate a new fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism that’s been in a private party’s possession for the last century. Speedy’s position on ownership is easy: if you can afford to pay the market value of the artifact, then hey! It’s yours. Mike’s position would be that we must strive to enrich the human experience, and that cultural artifacts should be accessible to the public.

Hope’s position is complicated. On the one hand, she needs to obey the law, because OACET. With that in mind, she’d follow the current legal standards used by regional and international organizations to designate the ownership of antiquities. On the other hand, “cultural artifacts” are something completely different to a woman who lives with ghosts. It’s really hard to get emotionally invested in items from the distant past when the dudes who made those items are your drinking buddies.

So I’ve got (more than) three characters with different views on how an item should be managed. I’ve got to get the details for each of these perspectives right, and it needs to be written in such a way that it’s not a teeth-grinding infodump. Fact-checking, whee!

Anyhow. That’s what I’m up to this morning. How are you?

*Quiet, you.

Published by KBSpangler

A freelance editor who writes novels, comics, and repairs a disaster of a house in her spare time:

4 thoughts on “Cultural property and ownership

  1. Re: buts; are you implying you’re pulling this entire book out of your arse? 😉
    (Sorry miss Otter, I’ll be quiet now, please don’t give me detention!)

    Anyway, I find it equally fascinating to learn of the _extreme_ attention to detail you put in your works. I can’t imagine the average writer goes through such hoops as to inquire with renowned chemists** if illegal substances have a use-by date..
    Dare I suggest your career as researcher-for-hire has anything to do with that?
    (I’m fact, IMHO you should put the cocaine-checking-tidbit on your CV*, surefire way to distinguish yourself from the masses 🙂 )

    *I know, I know, it’s not like you don’t have enough things on your mind without additional research-contracts 😉
    ** read his post ‘Sand Won’t Save You This Time’ for some terrifying entertainment:

    1. If it weren’t for my copyeditor, the bit about cocaine resisting mildew probably wouldn’t have been caught! I’m careful, but stuff gets by me. (I had to rewrite an entire scene in STATE MACHINE because I walked the region via Google maps and my descriptions didn’t hold up.)

  2. group ownership can be looked at the physical ownership or custody of the item this will also include the morale and ethical guidance to protect the item which can be and often is a different person or persons, the perceived itentions of the culture it represents because the community is the shareholder of their own history and the physical holders are the selected representatives of that community. when your shareholders are at different stages in a process to identify ownership then the direct descendants do have a singular claim, especially in this scenario where the actually embodiedment of the creators can be accessed. Ghosts.

    now you have a link to the distant past where the ghosts of powerfull people are dependant on their impact on history and their importance in the lives of the living how are you going to portray the ghosts of legend that drive our histories, our cultures are derived from greek law and politics, roman art and politics things like that define our culture and our imaginations with profound influence. and lets not forget religion the ghosts of the past are littered with people who have had profound and long lasting influence in todays society. just food for thought……oh love the books

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