The Great Laboratory of Humanity. Collection, Patrimony and the Repatriation of Human Remains

In the 19th century, the rise of the paradigm of ‘race’ increased the interest of scientists in measuring and comparing human skeletons. Western global domination enabled the collecting of human remains stolen from burial places or battle camps and acquired through commercial transactions; meanwhile, the remains of the ‘Fathers of Nations’ were transformed into sacred ‘monument-bodies’. This dual process of the patrimonialisation of  ‘evidence-bodies’ and ‘monument-bodies’ began to be challenged in the postcolonial era, when the affirmative actions of Indigenous peoples took the form of campaigning for the return of ancestral remains housed in Western museums. Human remains have become the site of a symbolic fight and the ‘body-of-proof ’ of science’s false neutrality.
The conference, conceived and organized by the Centro Interuniversitario di Storia Culturale, aims to address the acquisition, circulation and treatment of human remains, from the practices of colonial collecting and their monumentalizing use in the epoch of nation-building, until the present-day repatriation movement. Through local contexts it will focus on the processes of patrimonialisation and the empowering of human remains, on the relationships between scientific objectification and political sacralization, and on the chasm that separates the cultural and biological sciences.


Scientific Committee: Elena Canadelli, Ambrogio Fassina, Maria Teresa Milicia (coordinatrice), Silvano Montaldo, Anna Paini, Telmo Pievani, Carlotta Sorba, Gaetano Thiene, Fabio Zampieri, Alberto Zanatta

Organization:  Elena Bacchin (coordinatrice), Ilaria Gasparotto, Matteo Mignolli, Stefano Poggi


Posted on May 24, 2016 .