Agency and authority: the politics of co-collecting Sean Mallon There is a seashell in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) that was collected on one of the coral atolls of Tokelau in the 1990s and gifted to the museum in 2006 by a Tokelauan man called Kupa Kupa.1 We do not have a collection of unmodified seashells in the Pacific Cultures storeroom in the museum. We have shell cultural valuables, shell necklaces, shell trumpets, shell decorated shields and canoes, but no seashell collection. Yet this shell is one of our most interesting cultural
In order to facilitate the expansion of the century-old Maryborough District Lunatic Asylum buildings in 1933, architectural plans were drawn up for a set of glass verandas, one on either side of the building (Sheahan and Clery 1933 ). Though the building had been adapted and changed significantly since its construction, the 1933 plans indicate that the architect and the asylum authorities intended to maintain the symmetry of the building, consistent with every other addition to the front of the asylum since its construction. All
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene, the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives related to the conduct of the war.
Research into the governance of dead bodies, primarily focused on post-conflict contexts, has often focused on the aspects of the management of dead bodies that involve routinisation, bureaucratisation and order. Less attention has been paid to the governance of the dead in times of relative peace and, in particular, to the aspects of such work that are less bureaucratised and controlled. This article explores the governance of dead bodies in pandemic times – times which although extraordinary, put stress on ordinary systems in ways that are revealing of power and politics. Observations for this article come from over fifteen years of ethnographic research at a medical examiner’s office in Arizona, along with ten focused interviews in 2020 with medico-legal authorities and funeral directors specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic. The author argues that the pandemic revealed the ways in which the deathcare industry in the United States is an unregulated, decentralised and ambiguous space.
When drone footage emerged of New York City’s COVID-19 casualties being buried by inmates in trenches on Hart Island, the images became a key symbol for the pandemic: the suddenly soaring death toll, authorities’ struggle to deal with overwhelming mortality and widespread fear of anonymous, isolated death. The images shocked New Yorkers, most of whom were unaware of Hart Island, though its cemetery operations are largely unchanged since it opened over 150 years ago, and about one million New Yorkers are buried there. How does Hart Island slip in and out of public knowledge for New Yorkers in a cycle of remembering and forgetting – and why is its rediscovery shocking? Perhaps the pandemic, understood as a spectacular event, reveals what has been there, though unrecognised, all along.
In the aftermath of conflict and gross human rights violations, victims have a right to know what happened to their loved ones. Such a right is compromised if mass graves are not adequately protected to preserve evidence, facilitate identification and repatriation of the dead and enable a full and effective investigation to be conducted. Despite guidelines for investigations of the missing, and legal obligations under international law, it is not expressly clear how these mass graves are best legally protected and by whom. This article asks why, to date, there are no unified mass-grave protection guidelines that could serve as a model for states, authorities or international bodies when faced with gross human rights violations or armed conflicts resulting in mass graves. The paper suggests a practical agenda for working towards a more comprehensive set of legal guidelines to protect mass graves.
In this article we explore the relational materiality of fragments of human cadavers used to produce DNA profiles of the unidentified dead at a forensic genetics police laboratory in Rio de Janeiro. Our point of departure is an apparently simple problem: how to discard already tested materials in order to open up physical space for incoming tissue samples. However, during our study we found that transforming human tissues and bone fragments into disposable trash requires a tremendous institutional investment of energy, involving negotiations with public health authorities, criminal courts and public burial grounds. The dilemma confronted by the forensic genetic lab suggests not only how some fragments are endowed with more personhood than others, but also how the very distinction between human remains and trash depends on a patchwork of multiple logics that does not necessarily perform according to well-established or predictable scripts.
Epidemic disease regularly tore through nineteenth-century American cities, triggering public health crises and economic upheaval. These epidemic panics also provoked new racialised labour regimes, affecting the lives of innumerable working people. During yellow fever outbreaks, white authorities and employers preferred workers of colour over ‘unacclimated’ white immigrants, reflecting a common but mistaken belief in black invulnerability. This article chronicles enslaved burial labourers in antebellum Virginia, who leveraged this notion to seize various privileges – and nearly freedom. These episodes demonstrate that black labour, though not always black suffering or lives, mattered immensely to white officials managing these urban crises. Black workers were not mere tools for protecting white wealth and health, however, as they often risked torment and death to capitalise on employers’ desperation for their essential labour. This history exposes racial and socioeconomic divergence between those able to shelter or flee from infection, and those compelled to remain exposed and exploitable.
others. Well connected with powerful local European people as he was, he would still on occasion encounter the opposition of local authorities. I managed to negotiate freedom from customs, but those devils prohibited me from doing archaeological excavations. This is both illegal and scandalous and something I am not going to abide by. Any crook in this country can dig and sell the finds to traders in curiosities whereas a foreign archaeologist gets an excavation ban. It is absolutely crazy. A couple of days ago I galloped 7 Swedish miles to try to save a couple of
his chiefdom, and he used the royal iconography of the ‘gift of the countryside’.33 Akanosh C, the last known representative of this line of rulers, dedicated a statue to Osiris34 which bears the cartouche of Psamtek I. Here Akanosh C is count and governor, god’s servant of Onuris-Shu, Son-of-Re, Lord of Sebennytos, but he is no longer a Great Chief of the Ma and army officer, and significantly he now recognises the authority of Psamtek. Akanosh C retains the title of Lord of Sebennytos, so a compromise seems to have been reached between Sais and Busiris and