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.
John Harries, Linda Fibiger, Joan Smith, Tal Adler and Anna Szöke
Caroline Fournet, Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
The after-effects of mass atrocity – bodies and bones – struggle to be defined within memorial projects. This article seeks to examine the politics at play in displaying dead bodies to interrogate the role of materiality in efforts to memorialise and raise awareness about on-going violences. It focusses on the nexus between evidence, dignity, humanity and memory to explore bone display in Rwanda. It then takes up two artistic projects that play on the materiality of human remains after atrocity: the art of Carl Michael von Hausswolff, who took ashes from an urn at the Majdanek concentration camp and used them as the material for his painting, and the One Million Bones Project, an installation that exhibits ceramic bones to raise awareness about global violence. In thinking about the intersections between human biomatter, art and politics, the article seeks to raise questions about both production and consumption: how bones and ashes of the dead are produced, and how they are consumed by viewers when placed on display in a variety of ways.
Jonah S. Rubin, Iñaki Robles Elong, Riva Kastoryano, Marije Hristova, Iosif Kovras and Ivana Belén Ruiz-Estramil
This article discusses how Armenians have collected, displayed and exchanged the bones of their murdered ancestors in formal and informal ceremonies of remembrance in Dayr al-Zur, Syria – the final destination for hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the deportations of 1915. These pilgrimages – replete with overlapping secular and nationalist motifs – are a modern variant of historical pilgrimage practices; yet these bones are more than relics. Bone rituals, displays and vernacular memorials are enacted in spaces of memory that lie outside of official state memorials, making unmarked sites of atrocity more legible. Vernacular memorial practices are of particular interest as we consider new archives for the history of the Armenian Genocide. The rehabilitation of this historical site into public consciousness is particularly urgent, since the Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum and Martyr’s Church at the centre of the pilgrimage site were both destroyed by ISIS (Islamic State in Syria) in 2014.
Audiences and objects
Samuel J.M.M. Alberti
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.
The Manchester Natural History Society
Samuel J.M.M. Alberti
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.
Technique and the lives of objects in the collection
Samuel J.M.M. Alberti
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.
Objects, disciplines and the Manchester Museum
Samuel J.M.M. Alberti
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.
Scientific disciplines in the museum
Samuel J.M.M. Alberti
The chapter presents three narratives: the cultural cartography within the Museum; the relationship between the Museum and the rest of the University; and the status of the Museum profession. In presenting a unified view of nature linked by time and evolution, William Boyd Dawkins wanted to smooth over disciplinary boundaries within the natural sciences. Even the scientific areas that fulfilled the new 'green' environmental Zeitgeist privileged fieldwork rather than collection-based research. The chapter examines the shifting disciplinary boundaries within the natural history collections and between the Museum, the university, and the wider intellectual sphere. Material culture was employed in the physical space of the Museum to build disciplines and anchor communities of practice, whether academic, amateur or professional. New accommodation for the Museum was relegated to 'the University's plans for the future', and the natural history collections were dislocated from their cognate teaching departments.