Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson

Professor Erin Thompson
Associate Professor of Art Crime
Room number and address: 
Haaren Hall, Room 325-01


J.D., Columbia Law School, 2010

Certificate in Global Business Law, Institut d’Études Politiques and Paris I (Sorbonne), 2010

Ph.D. (Art History), Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 2010. Dissertation: “Images of Ritual Mockery on Greek Vases.” 

M.Phil. (Art History), Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 2005. Major field: Greek and Roman Art; minor field: Ancient Near Eastern Art.

M.A. (Art History), Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 2003

B.A. (Art History and Philosophy), Barnard College, 2002, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa 


As America’s only full-time professor of art crime, I study the damage done to humanity’s shared heritage through looting, theft, and the deliberate destruction of art. I have discussed art crime topics in The New York Times, CNN, NPR, and the Freakonomics podcast, among other publications, and have been invited to lecture at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Columbia, as well as many other venues. My book, Possession (Yale, 2016) explores the history of the private collecting of Greek and Roman antiquities; NPR said that it “realigns our own sensibilities about art" and named it a Best Book of 2016. Currently, I am researching the ways in which terrorist groups both sell and destroy art to support their genocidal campaigns, as well as the legalities and ethics of digital reproductions of cultural heritage.

Scholarly Work


Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale University Press, 2016). Covers the history of private collecting of Greek and Roman antiquities, examining collectors’ writings to determine their self-conceptions of their collecting behavior. Reviewed by NPR Books, Wall Street JournalAtlantic, and Times Literary Review.

Scholarly Articles

"Which Public? Whose Interest? Rethinking Merryman's 'The Public Interest in Cultural Property'," Art, Antiquity, and Law (in press).  

"Recreating the Past in Our Own Image: Contemporary Artists' Reactions to the Digitization of Threatened Cultural Heritage Sites in the Middle East," Future Anterior (in press).

“J. Paul Getty’s Motivations for Collecting Antiquities,” Adalya: The Annual Historical-Archaeological Journal of Suna & İnan KIRAÇ Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilization (2016).

Why Creative Responses to Destruction Matter, catalogue for the exhibition “The Missing: Rebuilding the Past,” Andrew and Anya Shiva Gallery, John Jay College, New York, December 9, 2015-February 5, 2016.

“‘But We Didn’t Steal It:’ Collectors’ Justifications for Purchasing Looted Antiquities,” Journal of Art Crime (2015).

“The Successes and Failures of Self-Regulatory Regimes for Dealing with Museum Holdings of Nazi-Looted Art and Looted Antiquities,” 37 Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts 379 (2014).

“Invisible Men and Women: Art and Alternatives to the Rule of Law,” essay in the catalogue for the exhibition “The Rule of Law and the Right to be Human,” Athens School of Fine Arts, Athens, Greece, May 30-June 13, 2014. (Simultaneously published in Greek translation).

“Destruction of Art,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (2nd ed., 2014, 6 vol.).

“Cultural Losses and Cultural Gains: Ethical Dilemmas in WWII-Looted Art Repatriation Claims against Public Institutions,” 33 Hastings Communication and Entertainment Law Journal 407 (2011).

“The Relationship between Tax Deductions and the Market for Unprovenanced Antiquities,” 33 Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts 241 (2010).

Public Outreach

"Art from Guantánamo," Paris Review (October 2, 2017).  

"Hobby Lobby’s Antiquities Trouble," Sapiens, July 10, 2017.

"Palmyra in Winter," The Kenyon Review (July/August 2017).

"Why People Collect Art," Aeon, August 23, 2016.

“Collecting and the Power of Touch,” The Ancient Near East Today 4.8 (August 2016).

“If We Return Nazi-Looted Art, The Same Goes for Empire-Looted,” Aeon, July 5, 2016.

“The Scholar on the Set,” Inside Higher Ed, July 5, 2016.

“William Hamilton's Prize Possession,” The Art Newspaper, June 2016.

“Pixels v. Propaganda: How Digital Technology Can Stop ISIS,” guest post on the Research Blog of John Jay College’s Office for the Advancement of Research, May 9, 2016.

“Just Give Him What He Wants,” post on the ethics of studying unprovenanced Ancient Near Eastern inscriptions, for “The Nature of Our Ruin,” a project of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, February 19, 2016.

“How Twitter Could Bring ISIS to Trial,” The Crime Report, September 8, 2015.

“Op Ed: Islamic State’s War on Art Turns a Profit,” Bloomberg View, May 18, 2015. (Reprinted in Japan TimesDenver Post, and Newsday.)

 “Rethinking the Boston Heist: Let’s Catch Today’s Art Thieves,” Crime Report, May 7, 2015.

“Artworld Roundtable: Artists Sue 5Pointz Owner & Developers,” Aesthetics for Birds, June 27, 2015.

“Op Ed: Restrict Imports of Antiquities from Syria to Cut Down on Looting,” New York Times, October 9, 2014.

“Op Ed: Egypt’s Looted Antiquities,” New York Times, May 30, 2014.

“Op Ed: To protect Syria’s antiquities, don't buy them,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2013.

“Teaching Cultural Heritage Law,” Art and Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter, American Bar Association Section of International Law (Spring 2008).

“The Effect of the New AAMD Acquisition Guidelines,” Art and Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter, American Bar Association Section of International Law (Spring 2009).


Area of Expertise

Faculty Expertise: topics/keywords

Art law, art crime, art theft, museum security, art forgery, antiquities collecting, cultural property protection, protection of art during wartime.

Online Presence
Faculty Website URL: