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Accepted paper:

Traces of past lives: Engaging with difficult histories


Anna Szöke (Humboldt-Universität)

Paper short abstract:

How can engagements with the traces of past lives contribute to building ethical-reflexive futures.

Paper long abstract:

Museums of Natural history, world history (formerly and sometimes still known as ethnographic museums), anatomical and medical museums hold bodily remains from ancient but also more recent history. They are traces of past lives and bear witness to the livings relationship to the dead but also to remaining structural unequal power relations. Departing from an ongoing long-term collaboration with colleagues from the Natural History Museum Vienna (NHM Vienna) and the research project TRACES (Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts. From Intervention to Co-Production), this paper will analyze how the human story of these bodily traces, incites new ways of research methodologies based on interdisciplinary (artistic, ethnographic, historical,...) approaches, and can be opportunities for transmitting difficult pasts and heritages. How can the collective but also personal engagement with collections of human skeletal remains evoke changes in present institutional structures, foster future collaborations and to build new relationships? What are the ethical implications in engaging with these collections - some of the human remains were collected under violent and ethically questionable circumstances.

The paper will also focus on examples from a series of creative public engagements with the Viennese NHM's human remains collection. By doing so, it will discuss if and how the analyzed formats can contribute in building ethical-reflexive futures.

panel P142
Knowing Historical Traces, Eliciting Possible Futures