Heritage research has moved focus from the ancient and monumental to the social, mutable and intangible. Death and loss remain central, but heritage can animate the dead; hold and awaken memories; name the nameless; give voice to the silent; and re-enact the past in the present.
Heritage conservation is preoccupied with the recovery and commemoration of that which is dead or dying. It seeks to record stories, places and practices vulnerable to extinction. Traditionally the domain of archaeologists and historians, rather than social or cultural anthropologists, heritage practice has prioritised material culture of the past over the lived cultures of the present. Heritage research has undergone a radical transformation, moving beyond the ancient and monumental to consider social, mutable and so-called intangible aspects of heritage. Despite this shift heritage remains concerned with death and loss. Death looms as a pervasive threat to cultural knowledge; people age and die, places are destroyed and objects lose their context and meaning, cultural practices slowly fade away. But things and places outlive people, and new approaches can challenge these preoccupations. Heritage can animate the dead; hold and awaken memories; name the nameless; give voice to the silent; re-enact, recreate and reimagine cultural practices and language. In other words, heritage is a mechanism through which the dead act through and on the living.
This panel seeks to explore how heritage enlivens and gives new meanings to the dead in the present. We call for contributions from those working at the intersection of anthropology and heritage, on topics including:
• Remembering the dead: commemoration, memorials, stories
• Rights of the dead: repatriation of people, objects and copies
• Restoration, revitalisation and reinvention of dead and dying tradition
• Representing the dead: interpretation, museum and display
• Reconnecting a buried past: archaeology and communities
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Who's afraid of the Anthropology Museum?
Following an eight-year stint leading a university collection of ethnographic material in Australia, I discuss the singularity of the University of Queensland's Anthropology Museum and how generating and managing social energy in a museum can reactivate the vitality in collections.
Moving away from the politics of representation and museums as contact zones, Thomas (2016) suggests that museums are 'creative technologies that enable us to remake things anew in the present'. The expanding audiences for the large UK university ethnographic museums are not composed of academic anthropologists but of a wider public who come to know anthropology through their engagement with the museum (ibid). In the UK, the heritage lottery fund has re-energised the museum sector - including university museums. In Australian universities, campus museums rely mainly on the largesse of vice chancellors, a situation that may result in short funding cycles and short-term planning.
Despite the recent ethnographic turn in art, paradoxically most commentary in the anthropology of art and curatorial studies eschew the ethnographic museum in favour of examples from a contemporary art category. Outside museum anthropology, the prevailing academic sentiment in Australia does not attribute value or social agency to ethnographic collections, often relegating them to a polluted, not art category of dead things. Many of those who work in museums experience collections as living.
Following an eight-year stint leading the largest university collection of ethnographic material things in Australia, I discuss the contemporary relevance of such anthropology museums, the singularity of the University of Queensland's Anthropology Museum and how generating and managing social energy in a museum can reactivate the vitality of collections. I ask how these museums collections can play a greater part in contemporary academic anthropology.
The matter of death: hair samples in museum collections
This paper focuses on how samples of human hair from Indigenous peoples are used and understood in museum collections in Australia and abroad. It considers how death and related issues of consent and potency affect perceptions and classifications of human remains.
This paper focuses on human hair and how death affects perceptions and classifications of human remains in museum collections. People do not immediately become human remains upon death. Human remains in museums, particularly skeletal remains, have passed through several stages on their journey to being considered as such: from being a living person, to a deceased person, to a human body, before becoming human remains. Unmodified archaeological skeletal material especially seems to exemplify how human remains have been understood within the museum context. These remains are viewed to have been collected from people who were already-deceased at time of collection, and who thus did not give their consent for exhumation or acquisition. In contrast, hair is frequently excluded from this category. Disconnected from the whole and considered as distinct locks or samples, hair is not typically seen to undergo this same transformation to become a human remain. Instead, it is perceived as having been collected with permission from living people, even when this context of collection is unknown. Yet research involving hair sample collections in both Australia and beyond challenges this differentiation. Focusing specifically on remains collected from Indigenous peoples, I will consider how death and related issues of consent and potency can shape how bodies and body parts are understood in museums.
Returning ngarritjbal (bones) to Arnhem Land
Crania painted with madayin minytji (sacred designs) from eastern Arnhem Land are held by public and university museums in Australia and overseas. This paper discusses complexities relating to returning these individuals to country and concerns of senior clan leaders in relation to their future.
Painting liya or skulls (lit. head) with madayin minytji (sacred clan designs) was a customary secondary burial practice unique to eastern Arnhem Land. The 1930s to 1960s saw the Methodist Overseas Mission staff at Milingimbi and, to a lesser extent, Yirrkala and in Darwin, target collecting institutions to secure examples of these. Anthropologists, artists and others visiting Milingimbi particularly, as well as Australian servicemen stationed there in WW2, also collected these. Research for the ARC Linkage project, The Legacy of Fifty Years Collecting at Milingimbi Mission, uncovered more than 80 liya madayin minytji (painted skulls) in museum collections from all these sources. At the 2016 forum, Makarrata: Bringing the Past into the Future (part of the ARC project) brought together representatives of twenty museums, galleries and archives worldwide, and senior Yolngu men asked about Ancestral Remains held in museums. A nationally co-ordinated project was initiated and data collated that has been the subject of consultation at Milingimbi. I discuss here the way museums engaged with the project and responses from Yolngu. The key consideration for consultation has been to build profiles or biographies of each individual as much as is possible-both in life and in death- based on available information. I discuss the way Yolngu have responded, including reassessing and reflecting on customary practices for the disposal of a person's bones in the past, and how this might inform decisions in the present.
The past in the present: the visibility of eighteenth century Polynesian artefacts in Tahiti today
Recent fieldwork in Tahiti has not only enabled the exchange of knowledge about the HMS Pandora collection, but also drew attention to the visibility of comparable artefacts in Polynesia today. This paper explores how old (museum) objects continue to be present in contemporary practice and creation.
HMS Pandora sank in 1791 after a five-month search through Oceania for the mutineers of the Bounty. Since the discovery of the wreck on the outer Great Barrier Reef in 1977, many objects were transferred from the bottom of the ocean to the Museum of Tropical Queensland, including a range of artefacts classified as Polynesian material culture. The collection is considered significant, because it can be ascribed to a specific time, place and context. Valuable insights were gained through previous research, yet from an archaeological perspective with a focus on conservation science and the past. However, the aim of my PhD project is not only to understand the relationships between the objects and humans in the context of eighteenth century maritime exploration of the Pacific, but also to explore what value they can have for people today. Despite the inevitable loss of certain materials and knowledge once attached to them due to the sinking of the ship, the artefacts recovered have outlived the men and women that once made them, gave them away or collected them. Among them are stone pounders, adze blades, wooden clubs, fishing implements, modified shells and an object assemblage suggesting that there has been a Tahitian mourner's costume on board - things that are still visible in French Polynesia today, even though they may have transformed, taken different sizes or shapes and made new connections. The past, then, seems to continuously act on the world, as the present is being lived and the future built.
Remembering, reclaiming and reinventing Sister Elizabeth Crouch: pioneer nurse in the PNG Highlands
This paper reflects on the process of remembering and reclaiming the dead through the lens of biography. How might biography be a way of enlivening the dead without fixing a singular trajectory and identity on those who have gone before us?
This paper reflects on the process of remembering and enlivening the dead through the lens of biography; in particular, the biography of Sister Elizabeth (Betty) Crouch who worked for 25 years as a nurse and Baptist missionary in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Betty died more than ten years ago, but left traces in various libraries and archives, in recorded cassettes and newspaper stories. Heritage research in this case has been an unfamiliar terrain for an anthropologist used to conversing with the living. These records tell a partial, sometimes contradictory story full of silences and multiple voices. Betty emerges as dedicated nurse, devoted to God, a feminist, an adoptive mother, a purveyor of fossils and a champion of PNG culture: as indefatigable yet ultimately vulnerable. How might biography be a way of enlivening the dead without falsely assuming coherence by fixing a singular trajectory and identity on those who have gone before us?
An anthropology of place and grief experience
By spending grieving and bereavement time in a place imbued with the culture of bereavement, grief expression rituals allow for heritage-making. This paper presents preliminary ethnographic findings from a study of bereaved young people at a US national centre for grieving children and families.
This paper discusses how a community embedded in place reflects and builds a culture and model for grieving at a US national center for grieving children & families. Heritage is now 'social, mutable and intangible' and hence by bearing witness to the cultural tradition of how a community grieves we give testimony to heritage-making through stories.
By local culture informing the way this centre teaches tools for expression in grief, place become culturally oriented. This centre's architecture and culture holds memories, and as such, the design of both encourage young people and families to tell stories of their dead and their grief experience week after week in the same rooms. Additionally, through the specific human experience exchange and values in the Pacific Northwest region of the US, this imbues context to the centre's cultural model of grieving and bereavement expressed through ritual and story.
I will reflect on notions of identity and culture expression through place-making and heritage-making, and how place impacts grief experience ritual making and helps create context for meaning during bereavement, as well as how memory is imbued into the architecture itself through the rituals built for the bereavement centre. This paper draws on long-term ethnographic research conducted at The Dougy Center, the US National Center for Grieving Children and Families, an organisation that offers support services to grieving children and young adults throughout bereavement and will argue that such a replicated centre in Australia could have real-world implications within an Australian cultural context.
Keeping unhappy memories alive: Aboriginal camps in SW Queensland
Every generation of Aboriginal people mourns the loss of their old people, and fears the loss of cultural knowledge. This knowledge is not only of traditional ways of life, but of recent histories that continue to shape Aboriginal people and their communities. While archaeologists chase ever more ancient sites to prove the great antiquity of Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal people are equally, if not more, concerned with Living Memories of the recent past (cf. Byrne). This includes life in camps on the outskirts of Australian towns that characterised many peoples’ lives until the late 1960s and early 1970s. While the histories are painful and shameful for Aboriginal people, the camps are also remembered nostalgically as places which forged strong senses of family and community. Remembering and memorialising these camps is an expression of Aboriginal pride in their ingenuity, fortitude and endurance. Drawing from a collaborative project between Surat Aboriginal Corporation and the University of Southern Queensland, this paper explores how transforming this history into heritage becomes a means of keeping alive a past that many Australians would prefer to bury.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.