History has its eyes on you…or vice versa?

Breanna de Vera, Staff Writer

Anyone familiar with the Broadway musical Hamilton will recognize the line “my dearest, Angelica,” from a set of letters that recently sold for almost $2.6 billion dollars at a Sotheby’s New York auction.  With the rising popularity of Hamilton,” interest in that historical time period is increasing. Auction houses like Sotheby’s are seeing more and more sales, especially from fans of the musical. But the public eye should not be deprived of these historical documents. They are at a higher risk for destruction, they are no longer accessible by the public, and they are also at risk for being lost forever.

When documents are privately owned, the public cannot access them for study, research, and appreciation. Though artifacts can be digitized, the physical work is sometimes just as important when it comes to constructing historical timelines, or even just to pore over the work itself. Some argue that by selling artifacts and art to the highest bidder, they are placed in the hands of the people who will appreciate them the most. However, this logic is flawed. To participate in an auction, you need to have a lot of money. What about all those people who truly appreciate and revere a piece, but do not have the means to purchase them? This is the case for “Hamilton” fans as well: What about those with long standing love affairs for the Founding Fathers’ history before the musical was written?

In private ownership, documents are at a greater risk of being destroyed or lost from the public view forever. Care for documents is not regulated in private ownership. Though most that buy artifacts have the means to preserve them, there is no way to ensure that this is the case. These people may also be lacking the technology that museums and galleries have to preserve art and historical works. There is also no way to trace the ownership of certain artifacts. After World War II, countless of pieces of art had been looted by the Nazi Party, and efforts to restore them to their original owners were fruitless. As a result, there are untraceable art pieces and historical artifacts that are being held by someone who may not be aware of their illegal ownership. Families that own these pieces were stripped of them, and there is no way to truly compensate their loss. By retaining all artifacts of historical relevance publicly, losses like these can be avoided.

In order to appease everyone, copies of the work can be made in this digital age. However, the physical copy should stay public, housed in museums or public galleries. There is always the problem of ownership, especially if the family of the work’s producer claims the work. However, it is in their best interests to sell the work to a public gallery, and hopefully museums can work to recompense these families.

Researchers and aficionados alike can experience pieces in museums and public galleries, yet retain a copy of their own at home. This way, access is available to everyone, and the pieces experience the best technology and care. Though the retrieval of works may never be fully completed, private ownership is not the best way to preserve humanity’s legacy.