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Objects, disciplines and the Manchester Museum

At the turn of the nineteenth century, museums in Europe and North America were at their largest and most powerful. New buildings were bigger; objects flooded into them, and more people visited them than ever before. The Manchester Museum is an ideal candidate for understanding cultures of display in twentieth-century Britain. It is a treasure trove of some four million priceless objects that are irreplaceable and unique. Like many large European collections, the origins of the Manchester Museum are to be found in a private cabinet: that of John Leigh Philips. This book traces the fate of his cabinet from his death in 1814. The establishment of the Manchester Natural History Society (MNHS) allowed naturalists to carve out a space in Manchester's cultural landscape. The Manchester Museum's development was profoundly affected by the history of the University in which it operated. In January 1868, the Natural History Society formally dissolved, and an interim commission took control of its collections; the Manchester Geological Society transferred its collections the following year. The new collection was to be purely scientific, comprising geology, zoology and botany, with no place for some of the more exotic specimens of the Society. The objects in the collection became part of Manchester's civic identity, bringing with them traces of science, empire and the exotic. Other museological changes were afoot in the 1990s. Natural history collections became key sites for public engagement with environmental issues and biodiversity and more recently as sites for exhibiting art.

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Technique and the lives of objects in the collection

Institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom had been considering digital recoding of collections data for over a decade when the 'Computer Cataloguing Unit' became operational. After reflecting on the nature of cataloguing, the chapter explores the different textual encounters from registration to publication, and concentrates on the Museum's early history and the system set out by William Evans Hoyle. The chapter charts the fate of specimens and artefacts within the collection. By studying what happened to objects in collections, the chapter contributes to a constructivist history of science, embedding the study of scientific practice in material culture. The chapter addresses what naturalists, archaeologists, curators and technicians actually did on a day-to-day basis. It is devoted to the storage techniques, and to tools and staff involved in exhibiting the select few items deemed suitable for display.

in Nature and culture
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The Manchester Natural History Society

The collecting networks established by the Manchester Natural History Society (MNHS) in the nineteenth century provided a framework for acquisition in the twentieth. On 29 January 1868, the Natural History Society formally dissolved, and the commission took control of its collections; the Manchester Geological Society would transfer its collections the following year. Like many large European collections, the origins of the Manchester Museum are to be found in a private cabinet: that of John Leigh Philips. The Peter Street Museum was a grand affair, replete with a pillared façade. It was part of the Greek architectural revival in Manchester, echoing the original town hall on King Street. Continuing on the trajectory William Crawford Williamson had started at Peter Street, Thomas Brown and his successor Thomas Alcock sought to establish the curators' role similar to expert naturalist than glorified janitor, and additional staff were appointed to assist them.

in Nature and culture
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Audiences and objects

The history of the Manchester Museum is fundamentally a history of people, and how they relate to objects. This chapter draws from the established bodies of work in cultural theory, mass communication studies and book history that view the communication process from both sides. In museum studies, visitor theory and contemporary surveys are replacing the passive audience with active participants in the construction of meaning, but seldom has the historical visitor been awarded the same courtesy. Text, arrangement and building worked together to condition the museum experience. From the First World War, the educational department of the Museum had an almost exclusive focus on primary schoolchildren. In Manchester, school buildings were required as military hospitals, so the town implemented a 'two-shift' system whereby classes from around twenty schools spent half the day outside school buildings.

in Nature and culture

In contemporary forensic medicine, in India, the label of complete autopsy applies to a whole range of post-mortem examinations which can present consid- erable differences in view of the intellectual resources, time, personnel and material means they involve. From various sources available in India and elsewhere, stems the idea that, whatever the type of case and its apparent obviousness, a complete autopsy implies opening the abdomen, the thorax and the skull and dissecting the organs they contain. Since the nineteenth century, procedural approaches of complete autopsies have competed with a practical sense of completeness which requires doctors to think their cases according to their history. Relying on two case studies observed in the frame of an ethnographic study of eleven months in medical colleges of North India, the article suggests that the practical completeness of autopsies is attained when all aspects of the history of the case are made sense of with regard to the observation of the body. Whereas certain autopsies are considered obvious and imply a reduced amount of time in the autopsy room, certain others imply successive redefinitions of what complete implies and the realisation of certain actions which would not have been performed otherwise.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

This article presents an account of the involvement of forensic anthropology in the investigation of human rights abuses in the modern era, and the difficulties it faces with respect to lack of adequate funding, volatile settings, the presence of unexploded ordnance, corruption in governmental agencies and a lack of good will, absence of support for NGOs and the curtailment of formal judicial proceedings to effect transitional justice. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, Mexico and the Northern Triangle are provided as regional examples of the problems encountered when attempting to conduct forensic anthropological investigations to locate mass graves, retrieve victims and obtain proper identifications. Interventions by various organisations are highlighted to illustrate their assistance to forensic and non-forensic individuals through technical support, training and mentoring in the areas of crime-scene management and identification techniques. Interventions in mass-grave processing when state agencies have failed, the importance of DNA banks and information from family members and witnesses are also presented.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Truth commissions are widely recognised tools used in negotiation following political repression. Their work may be underpinned by formal scientific investigation of human remains. This paper presents an analysis of the role of forensic investigations in the transition to democracy following the Brazilian military governments of 1964–85. It considers practices during the dictatorship and in the period following, making reference to analyses of truth commission work in jurisdictions other than Brazil, including those in which the investigation of clandestine burials has taken place. Attempts to conceal the fate of victims during the dictatorship, and the attempts of democratic governments to investigate them are described. Despite various initiatives since the end of the military government, many victims remain unidentified. In Brazil, as elsewhere, forensic investigations are susceptible to political and social influences, leading to a situation in which relatives struggle to obtain meaningful restitution and have little trust in the transitional justice process.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

The military coup of March 1976 in Argentina ruptured the prevailing institutional order, with the greater part of its repressive strategy built on clandestine practices and tactics (death, torture and disappearance) that sowed fear across large swathes of Argentine society. Simultaneously, the terrorist state established a parallel, de facto legal order through which it endeavoured to legitimise its actions. Among other social forces, the judicial branch played a pivotal role in this project of legitimisation. While conscious of the fact that many of those inside the justice system were also targets of oppression, I would like to argue that the dictatorship‘s approach was not to establish a new judicial authority but, rather, to build upon the existing institutional structure, remodelling it to suit its own interests and objectives. Based on an analysis of the criminal and administrative proceedings that together were known as the Case of the judicial morgue, this article aims to examine the ways in which the bodies of the detained-disappeared that entered the morgue during the dictatorship were handled, as well as the rationales and practices of the doctors and other employees who played a part in this process. Finally, it aims to reflect upon the traces left by judicial and administrative bureaucratic structures in relation to the crimes committed by the dictatorship, and on the legal strategies adopted by lawyers and the families of the victims.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal