The Great Emptying of European Museums

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Fishnut
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Thu Mar 25, 2021 12:13 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:56 am
[lots of interesting stuff about the Pitt Rivers museum
*cough*
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Millennie Al » Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:43 am

kerrya1 wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 9:04 am
Why should the people whose history and cuture this is not have easy access to it in their own museums?
We are one humanity. History and culture belongs to all of us.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Squeak » Fri Mar 26, 2021 5:31 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:43 am
kerrya1 wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 9:04 am
Why should the people whose history and cuture this is not have easy access to it in their own museums?
We are one humanity. History and culture belongs to all of us.
I can't begin to fathom the arrogance and ignoring of power disparities that allow an apparently intelligent person to make a statement like this in the context of the examples shared in this thread.

Presumably if it were aliens or chimps who stole Truganini's body or William Lanne's head, that wouldn't be OK because they're not part of humanity. But because it was the colonial powers who did it, that's OK, because they're human. And there are definitely no disparities in power between the modern Tasmanian Aboriginal community and local government-funded institutions.

Presumably, it was similarly OK for the Benin bronzes to be stolen from the descendants of the people who created them by other colonial powers, who could then go on to spend another century spinning stories about the "primitive" culture of Nigeria, while Nigerians couldn't see the exquisite workmanship that their local community developed centuries before, due to the cost and visa issues involved in accessing European museums. After all, the thieves were human, so those bronzes belong to the thieves and their sponsors just as much they belong to the community that created them and had physical possession of them before the looting by the Benin Expedition of 1897.

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by kerrya1 » Fri Mar 26, 2021 9:17 am

Squeak wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 5:31 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:43 am
kerrya1 wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 9:04 am
Why should the people whose history and cuture this is not have easy access to it in their own museums?
We are one humanity. History and culture belongs to all of us.
I can't begin to fathom the arrogance and ignoring of power disparities that allow an apparently intelligent person to make a statement like this in the context of the examples shared in this thread.

Presumably if it were aliens or chimps who stole Truganini's body or William Lanne's head, that wouldn't be OK because they're not part of humanity. But because it was the colonial powers who did it, that's OK, because they're human. And there are definitely no disparities in power between the modern Tasmanian Aboriginal community and local government-funded institutions.

Presumably, it was similarly OK for the Benin bronzes to be stolen from the descendants of the people who created them by other colonial powers, who could then go on to spend another century spinning stories about the "primitive" culture of Nigeria, while Nigerians couldn't see the exquisite workmanship that their local community developed centuries before, due to the cost and visa issues involved in accessing European museums. After all, the thieves were human, so those bronzes belong to the thieves and their sponsors just as much they belong to the community that created them and had physical possession of them before the looting by the Benin Expedition of 1897.
Whilst I was trying to craft a reply to Millie Squeak got in with an excellent one. Thank you

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Chris Preston » Fri Mar 26, 2021 9:27 am

Squeak wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 5:31 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:43 am
kerrya1 wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 9:04 am
Why should the people whose history and cuture this is not have easy access to it in their own museums?
We are one humanity. History and culture belongs to all of us.
I can't begin to fathom the arrogance and ignoring of power disparities that allow an apparently intelligent person to make a statement like this in the context of the examples shared in this thread.

Presumably if it were aliens or chimps who stole Truganini's body or William Lanne's head, that wouldn't be OK because they're not part of humanity. But because it was the colonial powers who did it, that's OK, because they're human. And there are definitely no disparities in power between the modern Tasmanian Aboriginal community and local government-funded institutions.

Presumably, it was similarly OK for the Benin bronzes to be stolen from the descendants of the people who created them by other colonial powers, who could then go on to spend another century spinning stories about the "primitive" culture of Nigeria, while Nigerians couldn't see the exquisite workmanship that their local community developed centuries before, due to the cost and visa issues involved in accessing European museums. After all, the thieves were human, so those bronzes belong to the thieves and their sponsors just as much they belong to the community that created them and had physical possession of them before the looting by the Benin Expedition of 1897.
They are trolling.

Your points are excellent.

It is probably worth noting that it is only in the past decade or decade and a half that there has been a general realisation in Australia that keeping living people's recent ancestors in museums against their decendents' wishes is not a good thing. The reality is that these people's remains were handled more as curios than the remains of living people. There has been a significant, but not yet complete, repatriation of remains held in Australia. I doubt anyone is missing their presence in museums.

I really don't know why we can't do this with certain other objects that were acquired in dubious fashion and kept against the will of the descendants of those who made them. Particularly when the objects are of local cultural significance.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Millennie Al » Sat Mar 27, 2021 3:25 am

Squeak wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 5:31 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:43 am
kerrya1 wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 9:04 am
Why should the people whose history and cuture this is not have easy access to it in their own museums?
We are one humanity. History and culture belongs to all of us.
I can't begin to fathom the arrogance and ignoring of power disparities that allow an apparently intelligent person to make a statement like this in the context of the examples shared in this thread.
So, if we're not one humanity, are we separate but equal or divisible into superior and inferior races?
Presumably if it were aliens or chimps who stole Truganini's body or William Lanne's head, that wouldn't be OK because they're not part of humanity.
If it were aliens, it migh tbe a little concerned that they had malicious intent and would learn something useful from it, and with chimps, I wouldn't want them to get a taste for human flesh. But other people seem harmless enough. They can have mine once I'm finished using it, if they like, as it'll be no use to me.
Presumably, it was similarly OK for the Benin bronzes to be stolen from the descendants of the people who created them by other colonial powers,
It's as ok as any other instance of conquest, of which human history has a vast number.
who could then go on to spend another century spinning stories about the "primitive" culture of Nigeria, while Nigerians couldn't see the exquisite workmanship that their local community developed centuries before, due to the cost and visa issues involved in accessing European museums. After all, the thieves were human, so those bronzes belong to the thieves and their sponsors just as much they belong to the community that created them and had physical possession of them before the looting by the Benin Expedition of 1897.
That was over a hundred years ago. Everyone in that community is dead. Some of their descendants are now British people born and living in the UK, but I'm sure they occasionally get asked where they're "really from".
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by nekomatic » Sat Mar 27, 2021 8:15 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Sat Mar 27, 2021 3:25 am
Squeak wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 5:31 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:43 am
We are one humanity. History and culture belongs to all of us.
I can't begin to fathom the arrogance and ignoring of power disparities that allow an apparently intelligent person to make a statement like this in the context of the examples shared in this thread.
So, if we're not one humanity, are we separate but equal or divisible into superior and inferior races?
Obviously you continue to troll, but: your two sentences in the former quote are true (or, not arguably untrue) but in no way lead to the conclusion ‘move on, nothing to see here’. If history and culture belongs to all of us, maybe those of us who currently have lots of it ought to redistribute it a bit.

Your suggestion that ‘this object doesn’t belong here’ has something in common with ‘this person doesn’t belong here’ is more interesting to discuss, but again it’s a bit convenient if it lets us draw the conclusion that there’s no problem to be addressed. I certainly don’t think that European museums should only hold European things; one of the purposes of museums should be to expose us to and educate us about other places, times and cultures, as well as the sort of ‘cultural offsite backup’ function Fishnut mentioned earlier. But let’s arrange that in a way that makes everyone happy, not just us.

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Millennie Al » Sun Mar 28, 2021 1:12 am

nekomatic wrote:
Sat Mar 27, 2021 8:15 am
But let’s arrange that in a way that makes everyone happy, not just us.
Well, then I'd suggest that the Queen invite Ewuare II around for tea at Buckingham palace, give him a tour, and see if he still feel sore about the bronzes. If so, she could offer him enough of the paintings, furniture, and other valuables to make him happy again. They could have a nice chat about what happened in the reign of a great-great-grandmother and a great-great-grandfather.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:20 pm

While this paper is about current scientific/medical research rather than historical artefacts, it has a lot of relevance to this thread: We Have “Gifted” Enough: Indigenous Genomic Data Sovereignty in Precision Medicine [open access].

ETA (because I somehow submitted before I'd finished) it's a reply to a paper I haven't read but stands on it's own and is well worth a read.
Research has too often been done to and about Indigenous peoples, rather than for, with, or by Indigenous peoples (Dalton 2002). The fundamentally colonial and inequitable relationship between Indigenous peoples and the predominantly non- Indigenous research institutions that control access to healthcare and funding is a crucial context for refram- ing the so-called exchanges of gifts in precision medicine. Current policy structures that fund Indigenous health research do not ensure that funding goesdirectly to Indigenous communities, nor do policies ensure that those conducting research on behalf of communities follow procedures to prevent their exploitation...

The structural power imbalance left in the wake of this policy gap is also apparent when Indigenous peoples are offered participation in research initiatives after the terms of participation have been predetermined by research institutions or funding authorities. Indigenous communities and scholars must then choose to accept the imposed terms or risk losing out on research opportunities entirely...

Inclusive research practices must consider the ways that inequitable relationships between Indigenous peoples and scientific fields continue to disproportionately structure the risks and benefits of precision medicine, otherwise they will perpetuate harms and fail to address Indigenous demands for governance of the research that affects them.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Sat Apr 10, 2021 9:01 pm

The British Museum is being left behind in repatriation efforts, at least as far as the Benin Bronzes are concerned. Museums from all around the UK appear to be opening up to the need to return these looted artefacts.
the University of Aberdeen announced last month it would repatriate a bust of an Oba, or king of Benin, which it has had since the 1950s. The Horniman Museum in London also confirmed it was taking steps to return artefacts...

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge has one of the largest British collections of Benin bronzes. It said if a claim were made, the expectation was that works with an 1897 provenance would be returned. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery said it was “open to all possibilities” and was actively working with Nigerian groups.

Another institution is the Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne. Its executive manager, Caroline McDonald, said the museum’s broader policy was very “pro-repatriation” and that it was researching the origins of one Benin bronze in its possession.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Sun Apr 25, 2021 11:18 am

This story is a reminder that the discussion about human remains in museum and other educational institutions is not a historical debate.

Ivy League colleges urged to apologise for using bones of Black children in teaching

These are bones from children who died in 1985 when US police bombed a residential street. According this piece written last year for the 35th anniversary of the airstrike, the children were aged seven to 13. They were only a few years older than me.
Fragments belonging to one or possibly two Black children have been held by the universities for 36 years, but now appear to have gone missing.

They are currently in use as a “case study” in an online forensic anthropology course fronted by Princeton that is openly available on the internet. The bones are shown on camera as teaching tools – without the blessing of relatives who were unaware their loved ones’ remains were harboured in academic collections.
It's unclear how or why the universities came into possession of the bones. The fact the bones are currently missing shows just how little care is given to human remains, though whether they are truly missing or just "missing" as a way to try and avoid the issue is a question I can't answer.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by nezumi » Sun Apr 25, 2021 2:47 pm

I'm sure we can argue about big rocks and little trinkets all day long and that's fine tbh. But holding onto people's actual bones? Disgusting. As per Squeak's post a while back, that's got to be number one priority for all museums and so on. Any and all human remains, including mummies and such, really must be returned to their country of origin for proper burial. I mean, I wouldn't mind my remains being on show but they're not me and I suspect that they would be horrified by the idea that their body would be put on display for people to gawk at. I can't imagine their descendants are particularly thrilled about it either.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Squeak » Mon Apr 26, 2021 9:20 am

At my Aboriginal cultural sensitivity training a couple of weeks ago, I was told that William Lannie's (he of the missing skull, hands and feet) scrotum is allegedly still in a French museum in the shape of an amusing coin purse. It could be an apocryphal story, but nobody quite knows how to find out whether it's true, given how many museums have "lost" controversial items in their collections. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community believes it.

I'm sure that's a highly scientifically valuable artefact that was collected with utmost cultural sensitivity. Europe's museums would be bereft if it were sent home.

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 29, 2021 1:02 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Sun Apr 25, 2021 11:18 am
This story is a reminder that the discussion about human remains in museum and other educational institutions is not a historical debate.

Ivy League colleges urged to apologise for using bones of Black children in teaching

These are bones from children who died in 1985 when US police bombed a residential street. According this piece written last year for the 35th anniversary of the airstrike, the children were aged seven to 13. They were only a few years older than me.
Fragments belonging to one or possibly two Black children have been held by the universities for 36 years, but now appear to have gone missing.

They are currently in use as a “case study” in an online forensic anthropology course fronted by Princeton that is openly available on the internet. The bones are shown on camera as teaching tools – without the blessing of relatives who were unaware their loved ones’ remains were harboured in academic collections.
It's unclear how or why the universities came into possession of the bones. The fact the bones are currently missing shows just how little care is given to human remains, though whether they are truly missing or just "missing" as a way to try and avoid the issue is a question I can't answer.
There's now a petition which people may be inclined to sign. It's making the following demands:
The immediate return of the remains of Delisha Africa and Tree Africa to The MOVE Family.
An immediate apology by the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, the Penn Museum, and Coursera to The MOVE Family and the Black community of Philadelphia for this racist and abhorrent behavior.
Financial reparations to The MOVE Family for the continued harm and trauma caused by Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Museum, and Coursera, for the profits made by the use of our relatives as teaching tools and research objects.
The immediate removal of all online content in which these remains are used, including the online course Real Bones taught by Janet Monge.
The termination of Janet Monge from her role as curator at the Penn Museum and faculty in the department of anthropology.
The creation of a transparent, public investigation led by a MOVE-approved investigator and funded by the Universities, into how these remains ended up in the Museum’s possession over the past 35 years.
The only one I'm a little hesitant about is the termination of the curator but given her significant association with the remains I do think that questions need to be raised.

I honestly can't imagine how I'd feel if my sister had been killed in a government bombing and then found out that not only were her remains not returned to the family but had been used by academics as a teaching tool, a curiosity and kept in a cardboard box somewhere. It's got echos of the Alder Hey organs scandal and does make me wonder if this is a one-off or if there's a habit of universities retaining human remains from recently-deceased people when presented the opportunity.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Apr 29, 2021 5:48 pm

The University has apologised and promised that the bones will be returned.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/famil ... ng-1962407

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 29, 2021 6:58 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 5:48 pm
The University has apologised and promised that the bones will be returned.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/famil ... ng-1962407
Good. That's a start.
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Apr 29, 2021 7:37 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 6:58 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 5:48 pm
The University has apologised and promised that the bones will be returned.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/famil ... ng-1962407
Good. That's a start.
Its weird. It looks like the bones were transferred to the university as the bones couldn't identified. So the professor examined the bones and couldn't identify them either. So far so good.

But then they decided to keep them. Like what the f.ck. "Don't know who they were from so we'll just keep them". Sometimes I really don't understand people.

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 29, 2021 8:49 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 7:37 pm
Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 6:58 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 5:48 pm
The University has apologised and promised that the bones will be returned.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/famil ... ng-1962407
Good. That's a start.
Its weird. It looks like the bones were transferred to the university as the bones couldn't identified. So the professor examined the bones and couldn't identify them either. So far so good.

But then they decided to keep them. Like what the f.ck. "Don't know who they were from so we'll just keep them". Sometimes I really don't understand people.
That's how I read it. I did begin to wonder if maybe the academics hadn't wanted to hold onto the remains but no-one in the police force wanted them back and with them being unidentified they didn't have anyone to else to turn to so were stuck with them. It seems that may have been the case,
Mann told the Inquirer last week that he has not seen them in more than a decade.

“I would’ve given them back years ago, if anyone had asked me,” the Princeton-based anthropologist told the paper. “There’s absolutely no reason for us to keep them. They should be given back.”
That said, the statement from the Penn Museum is a bit hmmm,
We understand the importance of reuniting the remains with the family, and we are working now to find a respectful, consultative resolution.
That really doesn't sound like a particularly complicated process - find a respectful and appropriate container for them (i.e. not a cardboard box) and give them back to the family. I'm not sure what a "consultative resolution" means but it sounds like lawyer speak and my internal cynic says it means "we need to get it in writing they won't sue us before we give them back".
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by bolo » Thu Apr 29, 2021 8:56 pm

Initially no one was able to identify them, but now everyone seems to agree who they are. Did I miss the part about how and when that changed?

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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 29, 2021 9:05 pm

bolo wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 8:56 pm
Initially no one was able to identify them, but now everyone seems to agree who they are. Did I miss the part about how and when that changed?
According to this NPR article,
A forensic pathologist produced reports on the human remains found in the debris, including two sets of bones identified as belonging to Tree Africa, 14, and Delisha Africa, 12... After an investigation into the bombing, the remains were given to anthropologist Alan Mann by the city Medical Examiner's Office, according to the MOVE Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission letters, for further analysis.
So I think there's been some muddled reporting. I was under the mistaken impression the remains had been given to Dr Mann for identification, not for "further analysis".
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Millennie Al » Fri Apr 30, 2021 12:52 am

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 29, 2021 1:02 pm
I honestly can't imagine how I'd feel if my sister had been killed in a government bombing and then found out that not only were her remains not returned to the family but had been used by academics as a teaching tool, a curiosity and kept in a cardboard box somewhere. It's got echos of the Alder Hey organs scandal and does make me wonder if this is a one-off or if there's a habit of universities retaining human remains from recently-deceased people when presented the opportunity.
Well, if you go back far enough it certainly wasn't a one-off: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke_and_hare
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Re: The Great Emptying of European Museums

Post by Fishnut » Tue May 04, 2021 6:39 pm

David Allen Green has a piece on the legal aspects of returning objects that were obtained with dubious legality.
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