There are many factors at work in the iconography of human remains. Some of those frequently discussed are aesthetic criteria, iconographic traditions and specific contingencies, whether political (for example in war paintings), symbolic (essential for transi images) or cultural. There is, however, one factor that is rarely mentioned, despite its centrality: the regime of value associated with corpses. Christ’s body is not painted in the same way as that of a departed relative or that used in a human dissection. Artists choose a suitable iconography depending on how the remains are perceived. This criterion became absolutely crucial in contexts such as nineteenth-century France, when attitudes to corpses underwent major changes.
This edited transcript of conversations between an Apache cultural heritage professional, Vernelda Grant, and researcher Bridget Conley explores the knowledge that should guide the repatriation of human remains in the colonial context of repatriating Apache sacred, cultural and patrimonial items – including human remains – from museum collections in the United States. Grant provides a historical overview of the how Apache elders first grappled with this problem, following the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) in the US Congress. She explains how and why community leaders made decisions about what items they would prioritise for repatriation. Central to her discussion is an Apache knowledge ecology grounded in recognition that the meaning of discrete items cannot be divorced from the larger religious and cultural context from which they come.
Both historical and contemporary records of mass contagion provide occasions for visibility to persons who otherwise remain little recognised and even less studied: those who bury the dead. While global reports attest to self-advocacy among cemetery workers in the current COVID-19 pandemic, the psychological complexities of their labour go virtually unseen. Findings on the experiences of those doing such work reveal a striking contrast. While societal disavowal often renders their task as abject and forgettable, those who inter the remains frequently report affective connections to the dead that powerfully, and poignantly, undermine this erasure. Acknowledging such empathic relationality allows us to look at this profession in areas where it has never been considered, such as psychoanalytic work on ‘mentalisation’ or in contemporary ethics. The article concludes with an example from the accounts of those who have buried the dead in the massed graves on New York’s Hart Island.
This article focuses on ongoing contestations around burned human remains originating from the Holocaust, their changing meanings and dynamics, and their presence/absence in Holocaust-related debates, museums and memorial sites. It argues that ashes challenge but also expand the notion of what constitutes human remains, rendering them irreducible to merely bones and fleshed bodies, and proposes that incinerated remains need to be seen not as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of the dead but as a different one, equally important to engage with – analytically, ethically and politically. Challenging the perception of ashes as unable to carry traces of the personhood of the of the dead, and as not capable of yielding evidence, I posit that, regardless of their fragile corporality, incinerated human remains should be considered abjectual and evidential, as testifying to the violence from which they originated and to which they were subjected. Moreover, in this article I consider incinerated human remains through the prism of the notion of vulnerability, meant to convey their susceptibility to violence – violence through misuse, destruction, objectification, instrumentalisation and/or museum display. I argue that the consequences of the constantly negotiated status of ashes as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of human remains include their very presence in museum exhibitions – where they, as human remains, do not necessarily belong.
This article describes some of the techniques museums use to represent the suffering body in exhibitions. Some display human remains, but much more common, especially in Western museums, are stand-ins for the body. Manikins take many forms, including the wax museum’s hyperrealistic representations, the history museum’s neutral grey figures and the expressionistic figures that represent enslaved people in many recent exhibits. Symbolic objects or artefacts from the lives of victims can serve as counterweights to telling the story of their deaths. Photographs can show horror and the machinery of death, focus attention on individual lives or recreate communities. The absence of the body can call attention to its suffering. All of these techniques can be useful for museums trying to display and teach traumatic histories, but must be used with care and caution.
The first chapter investigates Alexandria, the city that welcomed most Europeans and Americans upon their first arrival in Egypt. Alexandria was then, as it is now, largely ignored by visitors. Archaeologists and tourists alike usually stayed for just one night while waiting for the train to Cairo, and many left the city out of their stories. From 1885 until the end of the period covered by the book, we see that some tourists extended their stay in Alexandria for two or three days before moving south, to Cairo. This was due to the development of Greco-Roman archaeology. The first chapter briefly traces the development of Greco-Roman archaeology in Alexandria and how those discoveries impacted travel in that city. Chapter 1 is more a history of archaeological tourism than of hotels as central sites. This discussion is included because Alexandria, a city that welcomed countless travellers to Egypt, was an important space that is so often ignored.
Chapter 2 focuses on Cairo. Some visitors stayed the whole season in Cairo, venturing out for day trips to nearby Helwan and Memphis, but mostly staying around the city. Many archaeologists would spend several days or weeks in Cairo, preparing their equipment and making final preparations to go into the field for months at a time. Most archaeologists at the end of the nineteenth century could not afford to stay for long in the bigger hotels, which were designed for long-term tourists and cost more than their small excavation budgets would allow. A few, however, had very generous patrons. The hotels discussed in this chapter include Hotel du Nil, the Continental, Shepheard’s Hotel and Mena House. Chapter 2 introduces a lot of the characters in this book, and, as Cairo was the city in which archaeologists prepared themselves, built their scientific networks, and readied their thoughts for the next step in their work, the chapter performs the same role for the argument in this book. That is, it works to introduce many examples and demonstrates the use of hotels as important nodes of networking, building the cognitive landscape, and being useful for certain knowledge-creating activities.
"The story presented in these pages ends around 1925, when the dispute Carter had with the Department of Antiquities over excavations at the tomb of Tutankhamun was ending. By this time, the antiquities laws that had allowed almost unabated excavation and the expatriation of artefacts had become much stricter. Laws were set by the newly independent Egyptian Government that no longer benefitted Western, rich, white, male excavators but ensured instead that Egypt would retain its control over its own artefacts. For years, Egypt fought for political and economic independence, and by 1922, after the First World War had changed the world order, the British had given them some autonomy. It was in 1922 that Carter found King Tutankhamun’s tomb and all the ‘wonderful things’ it held. The control he tried to maintain over the artefacts he uncovered depended on his use of the space at the Winter Palace and drove the change in laws regarding archaeological finds. Luxor was the place in which, for this book, most of the work was performed and, therefore, was the most exclusive in terms of location and participation.The conclusion ties together all of the themes and ideas in the book, as well as proposing new avenues of investigation. "
The introduction is an entry into the theoretical underpinnings of the book as a whole. In it, I frame my main argument, which is stated in the first few pages as: ‘As the sites of such activities, Egyptian hotels, I argue, functioned as Egyptological think-tanks. Egyptology began and operated under the umbrella of European colonial power, and for the time period in this book, specifically British colonial power. In that context, I analyse the power of ephemeral hotel spaces in the networks formed within them and the interpersonal performances within the places, groups, and networks up and down the Nile.’ I frame this argument in the theories and methods of the social studies of science, geographies of knowledge, the history of archaeology and Egyptology, and the history of tourism and travel.