Madeline Davis

PhD Candidate
Madeline Davis photo
Dissertation Title
Cultural Heritage & Law

I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland in 2015, where I wrote an honours dissertation on agricultural laws in the 7th century Byzantine Empire. This project introduced me to a world of academic study where history, culture, and law were deeply intertwined. Following my undergraduate degree, I completed a Juris Doctor at Queen's University and later practiced labour and employment law. After practicing law, I returned to school and in 2023, completed a Research LLM at Osgoode Hall under the supervision of Professor Ruth Buchanan. In that program, I conducted a legislative history and discourse analysis of the Canadian Cultural Property Export and Import Act with a view to analyzing how colonial concerns pertaining to heritage became embedded in our modern laws regarding cultural property. My PhD will expand on this work, and I am delighted to return as a supervisee of Professor Buchanan.


Museums around the world, but especially those in settler states and former colonial powers, have been grappling with how to address the often-violent pasts of objects in their collections originally acquired under colonialism. Media coverage of repatriation claims have increased over the last two decades, especially of the back-and-forth between the British Museum, the British Government and Greece over whether Britain will return the Elgin Marbles to Athens after years of staunch resistance (Smout, 2023; Allegretti, 2023; Herman, 2021; Cassan, 2020). Further attention was brought to repatriation discussions following the French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 address to the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, where President Macron indicated his desire to work with African countries to find ways to return African cultural heritage objects currently housed in France (Hicks, 2020; Cassan, 2020).

Building on the research that I did for my LLM, I am interested in researching and writing about cultural heritage law across a number of different countries and how it regulates the cultural heritage of communities through its interactions with those communities’ physical objects. I suspect that although repatriation claims are an inherently international issue, the domestic laws at the state level present the primary barriers that equity-seeking groups around the world face as they try to engage with their own cultural heritage through making restitution and repatriation claims (Liljeblad, 2017; Bell & Paterson, 2009). As such, I think it is a valuable exercise to examine the domestic legislation in a number of key states with a view to answering the following research questions:

(1) How do Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France define and conceptualize cultural heritage within their domestic laws; and,

(2) How do domestic regulatory regimes relating to cultural heritage affect the repatriation claims that Indigenous peoples in Canada bring for objects held in public and private collections in Canada, the United Kingdom, and France. More specifically, what factors are associated with successful repatriation claims and what factors are associated with unsuccessful repatriation claims. Relatedly, do the definitions of heritage that these domestic regulatory regimes have adopted impact claims for or the process of repatriation?

To address the first question, I intend to conduct a historical inquiry into legislation in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and the United States that purports to address or regulate cultural heritage. To address the second question, I will engage in case studies of repatriation claims made to public museums in each of those three countries to assess what factors may be associated with successful returns, and what factors may be associated with an unsuccessful claim.