Museology Master of Arts Program

March 27, 2018

Law and Ethics of Ownership in Who Owns Humanity? Course

Instructor for Who Owns Humanity, Adam Eisenberg

Instructor for Who Owns Humanity, Adam Eisenberg.

What appeared to be a small class of about a dozen Anthropology and Museology students has far exceeded what I expected of any organizational development course. In what class might you study The Ghost of the Tsunami and Fake News in one sitting? And how do either of these things apply to our lives? In Who Owns Humanity we are given these material as tools for understanding how changing norms and practices in society raise new and complex distinctions between policy, law and ethics. The class explores the legal and ethical questions surrounding the ownership of art, artifacts, digital collections, ancient skeletons, biological data and human DNA.

This winter quarter I’ve had the opportunity to learn from Judge Adam Eisenberg, a judge in Seattle Municipal Court here in Seattle. Adam has a varied and interesting background, having previously been a criminal prosecutor, a civil trial attorney, an advocate of mental health and domestic violence issues, and a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist.

Adam challenges us to explore topics such as ownership, law, history, privilege, identity, religion, science, and humanity through the perspective of court cases in order to understand how the law defines each. Students are encouraged to share their thoughts as well as speculate and debate how cases might be handled differently. Illustrating the debates of the law not only informs students of our nation’s history, but also why matters of the law often become convoluted.

Students raise debate issues and discuss legal and ethical implications of cases in class.

Students raise debate issues and discuss legal and ethical implications of cases in class.

Who Owns Humanity gives students the freedom to view case laws with empathy, but reminds us that the law is created with objectivity, maintaining a blanket authority to protect its citizens. This course has led me to ponder bigger questions about how our legal system functions. How is it that a subjective society must submit to an objective authority? Questions such as this have provided me with an entirely new understanding of the law.

The philosophical and ethical basis of the class challenges me in a way unlike any other course I’ve taken. This class has helped me gain a deeper understanding of law and ethics as it relates to the museum field by allowing me to question, dissect, and debate their role in defining who owns humanity in our society.

Hannah Pfaltzgraff, Museology student, class of 2019