What is elginism?

Elginism (ĕl’gĭnĭz’əm) n. 1801. [f. the name of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841); see —ISM. Cf. Fr. elginisme & Sp. elginismo.]

An act of cultural vandalism. A term coined by the destructive actions of Lord Elgin who illegally transported the Parthenon Marbles from Greece to London between 1801 and 1805. Now also applies to other cultural objects. Usually refers to artefacts taken from poorer nations to richer ones.
It has a profound negative effect on the art world because many artefacts are destroyed when they are torn out of their cultural & spatial context. Due to this, scholars are unable to retrieve valuable historical information because they can only deal with fragmentary remains instead of a complete unified object. Decontextualised artefacts that end up in a museum or gallery are often given the name of the person who perpetrated their removal from their original setting (see Elgin Marbles).
The French use the term elginisme to describe the practice of stealing antique fittings from old houses.
The act of elginism has been going on for thousands of years, however the Elgin Marbles are now considered to be the classic case of elginism.

UNESCO has now put in place international laws to deal with acts of elginism by protecting monuments & preventing illicit traffic.
These include the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, with its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage & the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. In 1999 UNESCO launched an international fund for the return and restitution of cultural property.

Typical usage:
1. The denuding of the Parthenon is not the only example of e., but it is perhaps the most famous.
2. E. nowadays is a problem that mostly affects less wealthy nations.
3. Few people were able to anticipate the levels of e. occurring after the fall of Baghdad in 2003.

To the best of my knowledge, elginism is not yet listed as a word in any English dictionaries, although a number of authors have used it, most notably the TBWA\ advertising agency in Athens.

See also Elginism – the origins of a word which discovers more about how far back usage of the word can be traced.

If you want to know more about what you can do to stop Elginism, follow the how you can help link on this site.