The display of human remains is a controversial issue in many contemporary societies, with many museums globally removing them from display. However, their place in genocide memorials is also contested. Objections towards the display of remains are based strongly in the social sciences and humanities, predicated on assumptions made regarding the relationship between respect, identification and personhood. As remains are displayed scientifically and anonymously, it is often argued that the personhood of the remains is denied, thereby rendering the person ‘within’ the remains invisible. In this article I argue that the link between identification and personhood is, in some contexts, tenuous at best. Further, in the context of Cambodia, I suggest that such analyses ignore the ways that local communities and Cambodians choose to interact with human remains in their memorials. In such contexts, the display of the remains is central to restoring their personhood and dignity.
Destruction and human remains investigates a crucial question frequently neglected from academic debate in the fields of mass violence and Genocide Studies: what is done to the bodies of the victims after they are killed? Indeed, in the context of mass violence and genocide, death does not constitute the end of the executors' work. Following the abuses carried out by the latter, their victims' remains are treated and manipulated in very particular ways, amounting in some cases to social engineering. The book explores this phase of destruction, whether by disposal, concealment or complete annihilation of the body, across a range of extreme situations to display the intentions and socio-political framework of governments, perpetrators and bystanders. The book will be split into three sections; 1) Who were the perpetrators and why were they chosen? It will be explored whether a division of labour created social hierarchies or criminal careers, or whether in some cases this division existed at all. 2) How did the perpetrators kill and dispose of the bodies? What techniques and technologies were employed, and how does this differ between contrasting and evolving circumstances? 3) Why did the perpetrators implement such methods and what does this say about their motivations and ideologies? The book will focus in particular on the twentieth century, displaying innovative and interdisciplinary approaches and dealing with case studies from different geographical areas across the globe. The focus will be placed on a re-evaluation of the motivations, the ideological frameworks and the technical processes displayed in the destruction of bodies.
Transnational dynamics in post-genocidal restitutions
Taking its starting point from a socio-anthropological study combining
biographical interviews, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic
observations collected between 2016 and 2018 in Germany, France and the United
States among Ovaherero and Nama activists, and also members of different
institutions and associations, this article focuses on the question of human
remains in the current struggle for recognition and reparation of the genocide
of the Ovaherero and Nama from a transnational perspective. First, the text
shows the ways in which the memory of human remains can be considered as a
driving force in the struggle of the affected communities. Second, it outlines
the main points of mismatches of perspective between descendants of the
survivors and the responsible museums during past restitutions of human remains
from German anthropological collections. Third, the article more closely
examines the resources of Ovaherero in the United States in the struggle for
recognition and reparation, the recent discovery of Namibian human remains in
the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the questions that
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.
Colonialism, grave robbery and intellectual history
In 1885, the Berlin pathologist Rudolf Virchow presented three human skeletons
from the colony of German South West Africa to the Berlin Society for
Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. The remains had been looted from a grave
by a young German scientist, Waldemar Belck, who was a member of the second
Lüderitz expedition and took part in the occupation of colonial
territory. In an attempt to re-individualise and re-humanise these human
remains, which were anonymised in the course of their appropriation by Western
science, the authors consult not only the colonial archive, but also
contemporary oral history in Namibia. This allows for a detailed reconstruction
of the social and political contexts of the deaths of the three men, named
Jacobus Hendrick, Jacobus !Garisib and Oantab, and of Belck’s grave
robbery, for an analysis of how the remains were turned into scientific objects
by German science and institutions, as well as for an establishment of
topographical and genealogical links with the Namibian present. Based on these
findings, claims for the restitution of African human remains from German
institutions cannot any longer be regarded as a contemporary phenomenon only but
must be understood as part of an African tradition of resistance against Western
colonial and scientific practices.
This article will query the ethics of making and displaying photographs of human
remains. In particular, we will focus on the role of photography in constituting
human remains as specimens, and the centrality of the creation and circulation
of photographic images to the work of physical anthropology and bioarchaeology.
This work has increasingly become the object of ethical scrutiny, particularly
in the context of a (post)colonial politics of recognition in which indigenous
people seek to recover dominion over their looted material heritage, including
the remains of their dead. This ethical concern extends to the question of how
and under what circumstances we may display photographs of human remains.
Moreover, this is not just a matter of whether and when we should or should not
show photographs of the remains of the dead. It is a question of how these
images are composed and produced. Our discussion of the ethics of the image is,
therefore, indivisible from a consideration of the socio-technical process by
which the photographic image is produced, circulated and consumed.
This book addresses the practices, treatment and commemoration of victims’ remains in post- genocide and mass violence contexts. Whether reburied, concealed, stored, abandoned or publically displayed, human remains raise a vast number of questions regarding their legal, ethical and social uses. Human Remains in Society will raise these issues by examining when, how and why bodies are hidden or exhibited. Using case studies from multiple continents, each chapter will interrogate their effect on human remains, either desired or unintended, on various political, cultural or religious practices. How, for instance, do issues of confiscation, concealment or the destruction of bodies and body parts in mass crime impact on transitional processes, commemoration or judicial procedures?
Human remains and identification presents a pioneering investigation into the practices and methodologies used in the search for and exhumation of dead bodies resulting from mass violence. Previously absent from forensic debate, social scientists and historians here confront historical and contemporary exhumations with the application of social context to create an innovative and interdisciplinary dialogue, enlightening the political, social and legal aspects of mass crime and its aftermaths. Through a ground-breaking selection of international case studies, Human remains and identification argues that the emergence of new technologies to facilitate the identification of dead bodies has led to a “forensic turn”, normalising exhumations as a method of dealing with human remains en masse. However, are these exhumations always made for legitimate reasons? Multidisciplinary in scope, the book will appeal to readers interested in understanding this crucial phase of mass violence’s aftermath, including researchers in history, anthropology, sociology, forensic science, law, politics and modern warfare.
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal is a biannual,
peer-reviewed publication which draws together the different strands of academic
research on the dead body and the production of human remains en masse, whether
in the context of mass violence, genocidal occurrences or environmental
disasters. Inherently interdisciplinary, the journal publishes papers from a
range of academic disciplines within the humanities, social sciences and natural
sciences. Human Remains and Violence invites contributions from scholars working
in a variety of fields and interdisciplinary research is especially welcome.
An anthropological approach to humanremains from the gulags
We owe respect to the living
To the dead we owe only the truth.
Archaeologists and anthropologists specializing in the field of
funerary customs have long been used to considering the degree of
social, religious and political investment placed in the dead body.
Ever since the pioneering work of Robert Hertz, we have known
that the social treatment of corpses is based on a series of rituals
that bring into play the full range of collective representations