Bring out your dead: navigating the ethics of displaying human remains in museums

News from the field of displaying the human body, ethics and museum policies

Bone Broke

In the past two months I’ve attended two lectures on the topic of human remains in museum collections. The talks were part of a University of Michigan lecture series titled It’s Alive! Rediscovering Institutions of Living Collections.  I found the questions generated by these talks to be phenomenally interesting,  particularly those concerning how to balance the ethical curation of human remains with the tendency of museum-goers to lavish them with morbid, fetishizing attention. 

The first talk, titled Policy and Practice in the Treatment of Human Remains in German Museum Collectionswas given by Robert Jütte, director of the Institute for the History of Medicine in Stuttgart.  [Sidebar: While Jütte’s English was flawless, over the course of the lecture he kept saying “skeleton in the cupboard”, which I found charmingly German of him]. His talk covered the loaded history of the curation of human remains in Germany, ranging…

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