Reviewer Mugsy | Review

#318 Calcified identities: persisting essentialism in collections of human remains

Coresponding author's contact details

First name Jonatan Middle name Last name Kurzwelly
Title Dr Organization / Institution University of Goettingen Department Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnolog Institute
Address Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14 Postal / Zip code 37073 Country DE
E-Mail Hidden Phone number Hidden Presenting author Yes

Co-authors (1)

Co-Auhtor #1

First name Malin Middle name Sonja Last name Wilckens
Title PhD Candidate Organization / Institution Bielefeld University Department History
Country DE E-Mail Hidden Presenting author No


Abstract title

Calcified identities: persisting essentialism in collections of human remains

Abstract text

History of racism and colonialism is inextricably connected with the history of science, and in particular with the essentialist notions of human beings and social groups. From the Valladolid debate about moral and legal character of ‘natives’ in 16th century, through to the 18th and 19th century arguments between mono- and poly-genetic origin of human beings, to 20th century theories of eugenics and selective pairing oriented towards purity or improvement of ‘races’, scholars provided arguments which justified discrimination, exploitation and genocide. Such scholars often collected and examined vast numbers of human remains from around the world, especially skulls which were often obtained in violent or questionable circumstances, to construct and support their theoretical models. Today these collections of objects-subjects (scientific objects, historical and spiritual subjects) play an important role in debates about decoloniality and broadly (and usually vaguely) defined reconciliation. However, the understanding and treatment of these human remains often falls into new forms of essentialism, reproducing a calcified understanding of identities. In this presentation we will compare and problematise scientific essentialism produced by some anatomists and physical anthropologists of 18th-20th century, with contemporary essentialist discourses and practices embedded in the problematic collections of human remains.

Conference topic

Panel no. 81 - Essentialism in Deprecatory Expressions of the Other: Comparing Mid-19th to Mid-20th Century Examples with Those of the Early 21st Century

Preferred format


Abstract Review

This abstract was reviewed on 2020-12-16 15:44h by Mugsy

Reviewer decision