2010 World Heritage News and Events
U.S. College Returns Stolen Renée Descartes Letter to Institut de France
On June 8, a rare four-page letter, written by the French philosopher René Descartes and stolen from the Institut de France in the 19th century, was returned to the Institut from the U.S. by the President of Haverford College, Steven G. Emerson.
The letter had been donated to the College’s library in 1902, by the widow of a collector who had not known its history. When it was discovered to be stolen earlier this year, President Emerson immediately contacted Institut de France Chancellor Gabriel de Broglie, who gladly accepted his offer to return the letter, describing it as “a wonderful discovery for science.”
In a formal ceremony, Chancellor de Broglie accepted the letter from President Emerson, thanking him for the “integrity and honesty” of his gesture, and presenting Haverford College with a 15,000 Euro award. Ambassador and Mrs. Killion were present at the ceremony.
Mr. Emerson said the award will go to purchase new historical documents and set up a fund to finance future studies in France by Haverford students and faculty.
The United States is currently a member of UNESCO’s “Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation” and works closely with UNESCO on the preservation of cultural property. Both the United States and France are States Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Although the Convention is not applicable in this instance, the return to France of this important historical document by Haverford College invokes the spirit of the Convention and represents an emerging sense of ethical and voluntary behavior on the part of institutions and nations toward matters of return and restitution of cultural property.