As of the late 18th century, the emerging field of anatomy had developed a great interest in human skulls. Initially motivated by questions of morphological diversity versus common humanity, skulls came to be a founding component of race science and were amassed in a near competitive manner by many research institutions mainly (but not only) of the “Global North.” In the 21st century, these objects of research have entered a path towards regaining their status as individuals. Drawing from research encounters, team discussions and restitution ceremonies, as well as interviews conducted in the framework of Göttingen University’s interdisciplinary “Sensitive Provenances” project, the presentation seeks to capture the dynamic force inherent to human remains. Long past their active role for research, (in many places) no longer allowed in teaching, removed from (many) museum displays, new narratives of human remains’ journeys and their suspension in time by the thousands in countless storage facilities, they occasion emotional, spiritual as well as pragmatic encounters along former colonial trajectories. Whether crania or ancestors, the contents of cardboard storage boxes hold potential for reconfiguring knowledge in global relations.
Regina F. Bendix is a professor of Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology at the University of Göttingen. In addition to interests in narrative, sensory ethnography and the history of ethnographic disciplines, she has worked extensively on questions of cultural property and heritage. Among her recent publications are Culture and Value. Tourism, Heritage and Property (Bloomington, 2018) and, co-edited with Aziz Haidar and Hagar Salamon, June 1967 in Personal Stories of Palestinians and Israelis (Göttingen 2022).
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