Thursday, May 6, 2021

Should a museum do with the bones of slaves?

Morton Skull CollectionOne of the more complex holdings of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, assembled by 19th-century physician and anatomist Samuel George Morton.

Consisting of some 1,300 skulls gathered around the world, it provided the foundation for Morton’s influential racist theories of differences in intelligence between races that established the now-infamous “race science” that contributed to 20th-century eugenics. helped. In recent years, part of the collection was prominently displayed in a museum classroom, a hideous object text in a notorious chapter of scientific history.

Last summer, student activists highlighted the fact that some 50 skull slaves in Cuba came from Africans, the museum Skull displayed was taken to storage Along with the rest of the collection. And last week, soon after release Outside research Pointing to nearly 14 other skulls that the blacks taken from Pupper’s graves came from Philadelphia, the museum announced that the entire collection was a possible “repatriation” as a step of “atonement and repair” for past racist and colonist Will be opened “to the ancestors of the rebels. Practice.

The announcement was the latest development in a highly charged conversation about African-American relics in the museum’s collection, specifically that of slaves. In January, President of Harvard University Issued a letter Alumni and colleagues acknowledge that 22,000 human remains in its collection include people of African descent, who have been enslaved in the United States, and are pledging to review their policies of “moral leadership” .

And now, that conversation can be set to explode. In recent weeks, the Smithsonian Institution, which has the nation’s largest collection of human remains in the National Museum of Natural History, has been debating proposed statements on its own African-American remains.

According to excerpts from an internal summary obtained by The New York Times, those discussions include those who have long sought repatriation efforts, as well as those involved in collecting, preserving, and studying artifacts. For those who have a more traditional view of the mission of the museum and who see the repatriation as a potential loss to science.

In an interview last week, the Smithsonian’s secretary, Lonnie G. Bunch III, disapproved of the deliberations, but confirmed that the museum was developing new guidance, which he said would undergo a clear inevitability: “Respect and remembrance to keep.”

“Slavery is in many ways the last great disambiguation in American discourse,” he said. “We can both do anything to help the public understand the effects of slavery, and find ways to honor slaves, topping my list.”

Any new policy, Drs. Bunch said, will build on existing programs for Native American remains. This may not include the return of remnants of direct descendants, but possibly revolts to communities, or even to a national African-American burial ground. And the museum, he said, will also try to tell full stories of individuals whose remains will remain in the collection.

He said, “It used to be a ruse to the community”. “Now, it’s about finding the right tension between community and scholarship.”

The volume of slaves and other African-American remains may be modest compared to the estimated 500,000 Native American relics in the museums, which were removed from the burial grounds and 19th-century battlefields, associate professor of Samuel Redman. History at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, called “an industrial scale”.

But Dr. Redman, author of “Bone Room,” A history of relics collected by museums, Harvard, Penn and especially the Smithsonian’s move may represent a “historical tipping point”.

“It puts in our shocking relief to overcome the problem of historical exploitation of people in their objects, their stories, and the color of their bodies,” he said.

Complications remain around African-Americans – who can claim them? How do you determine the status of slavery? – are huge. Even counting them is a challenge. According to an internal Smithsonian survey that has not been made public before, its reserves include about 1,700 African-Americans among the 33,000 relics, including an estimated several hundred who were born before 1865, and could therefore be enslaved.

Some remains have been found from archaeological excavations. But the majority are from individuals who were killed in state-funded institutions for the poor, whose unclaimed dead bodies were destroyed. Physical storage It was later acquired by the Smithsonian.

Except 1990 Native American Tomb Protection and Reversion Act, Requiring the return of museums to remain for descendants of the tribe or lineage that requested them, allowing the Smithsonian to be claimed by descendants of nominees of any race. While many African-American individuals are enrolled in anatomy collections, none have ever been recaptured, according to the Museum of Natural History.

Kirk Johnson, director of the museum, said that physical collections, while unambiguously collected from the poor and marginalized, included A cross-section of society In terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity, and cause of death, which made them extremely useful to forensic anthropologists and other researchers.

But when it comes to African-American relics, a broader approach to repatriation – including the more extensional notion of “ancestor” and “descendant” – may be appropriate.

“We all have a season of becoming more enlightened about structural racism and anti-black racism,” he said. “At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s a matter of honor.”

Smithsonian’s first black secretary, Drs. Bunch said he hoped that its actions would provide a model to institutions across the country. Some have studied the history of trade in black bodies, saying such guidance is needed.

“It would be wonderful for an African-American tomb protection and repatriation act,” said Daina Ramey Berry, history professor at the University of Texas and author of “Price for their pound of flesh,” A study of slave body modification from birth to death.

“We are finding evidence of slave bodies used in medical schools across the country,” she said. “Some are still on display at universities. They need to be returned. “

Penn’s Morton collection clearly embodies both the stern side of the enterprise, and the meaning of the collection changes.

Morton, A successful doctor Who was an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, sometimes referred to as the founder of American Physical Anthropology. He was a proponent of the theory of polygenesis, which assumed that some breeds were distinct species with different origins. In lavish illustration books such as “Crania americana” from 1839, he drew on skull measurements to outline a proposed hierarchy of human intelligence at the top in the United States and with Africans.

Morton’s skull collection was called the first scholarly anatomical collection in the United States and, at the time, the largest. But after his death in 1851, it fell into obscurity, even as his racist views about differences in intelligence remained influential.

In 1966, the collection was transferred to the Penn Museum from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. And it quickly became a useful tool All types of scientific research – Including studies aimed at dispelling racist ideas that helped create it.

In a famous 1978 paper (later adapted for his book, “The Missman of Man”), paleontologist Stephen J. Gould argued that Morton’s racist conceptions led him to make inaccurate measurements – thus not Morton’s. Changed only to a symbol of racist ideas, but also how prejudice can affect the seemingly objective processes of science.

Golden himself has analyzed Malden’s measurements. Hot disputed. But in recent years, the suitability of keeping skulls on everyone has been increasingly questioned by campus and local activists, especially after being involved with student researchers. Pain and Slavery Project The slaves drew attention to the remains of the slaves.

Christopher Woods, Joe Became director of museum Earlier this month, said the new repatriation policy (that was) Recommended by a committee) Will not change the status of collections as an active research source.

Although there is no access to the actual skulls since last summer, legitimate researchers can examine 3-D scans of the entire collection, including 126 Native Americans that have already been repatriated.

Dr. “The collection was put together for nefarious purposes in the 19th century to reinforce white supremacist racial views, but there is still good research on that collection,” said Woods. Woods said.

When it comes to repatriation, he said, moral imperative is obvious, even if there is no specific course of action. As for the skulls of Black Philadelphians taken from Pauper’s graves (a major source for prisoners of all races at the time), he said he hoped they could be reestablished in local African-American cemeteries.

However, being enslaved to Cuba would require future research and possibly testing, as well as looking for a suitable repatriation site, possibly in Cuba or West Africa, where most individuals were likely to be born.

Black relics have become a particularly urgent issue, he said. But repatriation requests for any skulls will be considered.

“It’s a moral question,” he said. “We need to consider the wishes of the communities with the arrival of these people.”

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