Every heritage site, every museum, every Gedenkstätte, will provide not only a place for historical education, commemoration, or reflection, but most certainly one or multiple containers to receive the discards each visitor leaves behind. Waste is as ubiquitous as it is invisible. Taking the inconspicuously designed trashcans at the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen as a starting point, I will offer some reflections on the disturbing connections between garbage and genocide in Nazi Germany.
The contours of the Nazi waste regime are hardly part of the heritage preserved at memorial sites such as Sachsenhausen. Yet, garbage and genocide were part and parcel of the imperial logic of the Nazi regime. I illustrate the The destructive dynamics that render waste reclamation an integral aspect and in fact motor of the Nazi system. I focus my discussion on the concentration camp system. Already in 1936, prisons, asylums and camps played a key role in the vision for comprehensive recycling programs in the Reich. As the camp system proliferated and war stretched material resources, camps functioned as massive waste relay and refurbishing stations. It is here that the interconnectedness of waste management and genocidal practice comes into full view: The seemingly apologetical practices of everyday salvage inside the Reich and the industrial scale extraction of labor an material in the ever growing camp complex illustrate that
waste management and recycling stood at the very center of the regime’s attempts to rationalize the systematic exploitation and industrial killing of millions of people.
Redirecting our gaze to what semantics and complex infrastructures have hidden from view is one of my main goals here. Waste, I suggest, affords a new, if disturbing, perspective onto the imperial logic of a regime that hoisted human lives onto the trash heap of history and used garbage to grease its war machine.
The past is present through its lasting material forms. Whether cherished, taken for granted or dismissed, things from the past are subject to contested and conflicting political-aesthetic significations and frames. While heritage connotes an appreciative stance towards such things and recognizes their value in being kept in museums or as monuments, waste is in many respects the Other of heritage. At the same time, both heritage and waste are categories that may be mobilized with regard to the same things. My main concern in this presentation is to contribute to widening the conceptual scope with regard to the study of the power of, and conflicts about, lasting material forms that cannot be fully captured by remaining within ‘the place-oriented, static and secularized notions that abound in debates on heritage’ (workshop outline). I will do so by focusing on two instances of the dissolution of religious traditions, in which hitherto sacred things are transposed into new secular settings. One concerns African objects and sculptures that were dismissed as ‘idols’ and ‘fetishes’ in the context of colonization and missionization and made to signify ‘primitive’ religion in colonial museums. The other concerns images of Mary, Jesus and Saints that have lost their function in the course of de-churching and can be found as ludic attributes in pubs, are for sale in markets, and signify ‘Christian heritage’ in museums. My basic idea is that such things offer a viable starting point for rethinking heritage from the angle of disturbance.
DAY 1 - 17 May
Panel 1: Heritagising Waste
This paper is an enquiry into an ambiguous status of human remains, described by John Harries (2016) as “a strange kind of waste” – a “reminder and remainder”. The territories that became part of Poland after World War II, where expelled ethnic Germans were replaced by settlers displaced by the Soviet annexation of the Eastern borderlands of Poland, constitute a complex memory space. My home town of Wroclaw (Breslau), today known as a “meeting place”, has been often referred to as “unfamiliar”, “strange” or “repellent given Wroclaw’s Prussian-German appearance” (Thum, 2011). For my generation (late 1970s) it was a place of “amputated memory”, of absences resulting from strategic forgetting, and of waste seen in all that was left behind, not yet disposed of or erased. On top of German streets, parks and cemeteries, with the help of grandparents’ recollections of wartime destruction and post-war stagnation, we were creating a Polish founding myth of the city, inscribing new national identity onto its spaces and stories.
As a young girl I was already aware that I lived on a neglected, abandoned cemetery. I often played with other kids in excavations made for heat pipes for new housing estates. And there they were – disarticulated, nameless, redundant bones – a form of waste. This experience has influenced my relationship with home and provoked questions I still reflect on today, living as a migrant somewhere else: How do migration, shifting or crossing the borders impact or disturb the affective presence of human bones. Are such bones abandoned or displaced, objects or subjects, mute, waste? What is our responsibility towards this inherited waste? What have we actually inherited? Particularly when they no longer confront us in their materiality, but are hidden, removed, covered with foreign roads, parks and everyday lives.
The landscape of Armenian material remains in Eastern Turkey/Northern Kurdistan/Western Armenian lies largely outside an institutionalised heritage discourse and practice. Having been targeted by genocidal violence alongside and following its historical community, it has largely been laid to waste. This project of wreckage has itself channelled particular libidinal and destructive energies. But the process of destruction has also frequently animated the few fragmentary structures that have remained, underpinned by vernacular religious practice, in particular as the violence of destruction has been displaced and continued by those hunting for what are known as ‘Armenian’ treasures. In my contribution to the conference, I want to discuss how the material remains of the Armenian genocide are thus enmeshed in both genocidal violence and value extraction, in processes of elimination and in efforts at mattering and presencing. The political economy that has emerged in this post-genocidal space is marked by a striking dissonance between real dispossession and disempowerment and imagined (Armenian) wealth and power. As locals seek to tap into this imaginary wealth, they produce waste through a projection of plenty. Violence, I argue, is indispensable for the labour of converting the already ruined and wasted into new potential profit, a profit that might also emerge from a re-constitution of Armenian remains as heritage.
Millions of war dead, hundreds of thousand of missing and unidentified remains, generations of bodies disabled by dioxin exposures, vast territory contaminated by toxic and explosive materials are metaphorically and literally forms of war waste in Vietnam. Decades after conflicts, the Vietnamese state has been able to turn some of these wastes into heritages through which a common understanding of this violent past is promoted. Military war dead, enshrined as martyrs have paved the way for a vast array of monuments, memorials, pilgrimage and spiritual sites. Similarly, former geographies of terror such as battle fields, underground tunnels, and former prisons have been successfully transformed into new tourist destinations. But not all war waste is recyclable nor is the recycling process clean and complete – new waste, toxicity, and haunting are often side-products that question anew the senselessness of past pains, especially ones that were inflicted and continued to be denied by the state themselves. This paper aims to theorize human and non-human forms of war waste and those war heritages that escape the state’s control. It does so by analyzing two ethnographic cases – 1) the leftover bones of DNA sequencing and their spiritual owners in the quest for identification of soldiers who went missing in action and 2) the scientific project currently undertaken by Vietnamese geneticists to determine the multi-generational effect of dioxin residual in human genes against the background of the specter of Agent Orange. By locating war heritage back into the realm of molecular materials and spiritual heritage, the case of Vietnam de-stabilizes dichotomies like religious and secular as well as material and spiritual.
On January 30th, 2021, more than 8000 inhabitants of the midsize city of Göttingen had to evacuate their homes. Four objects suspected to be WWII bombs had been found, and in order to proceed with whatever building construction had been the cause of the find, these objects had to be gingerly freed up and detonated by specialists for the removal of warfare materials. This was by no means an unusual event. It happens in different large and small cities in Germany every year, and images of individuals and families walking to shelters, and reports of meals getting distributed fill the news. The craft of neutralizing live warfare agents is not on UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage. Yet four 500 kilogram bombs slumbering underground in a residential neighborhood unmistakably are an inheritance of what one once hoped was the last big war.
Starting from this particular case, the paper will explore the “undead” warfare materials that endure after combat and peace treaties in terms of their challenges to heritage abundance. Forgotten bombs’ shifting materiality, combined with the loss of their original purpose, render them a war memorial not generally memorialized, a heritage insufficiently dead to be part of the regime, and a danger available to be haunted by.
Panel 2: Revisiting Wasteland
This paper addresses the question of why the toxic remainders of gold mines have so often become state-supported sites of heritage and public memory across the British Commonwealth. Looking specifically at museums and gold-mining heritage theme parks, I ask, why is there such an intensive infrastructure of gold-mining memory throughout North America, Australia, and New Zealand? Why do tourism entrepreneurs pour resources into theme parks where children and adults can sit on their haunches to re-enact the excruciatingly tedious process of panning for gold? My answer is that the public memory of gold mining is rooted in a Christian and colonial cosmology of land deeply connected to spiritual ideas of “waste.” In the British Empire, the Monarch’s right to rule over lands very distant from their own ancestral territories was most powerfully landed in the idea of “Crown tenure,” a legal fiction—or creation story—that held that all lands belonged, in a sense at once spiritual, temporal, and secular, to the monarch. The rise of colonialism extended Crown tenure across the ocean to a monarch’s supposed “possessions”, using concepts such as “underlying title”, “Crown land”, and “waste lands.” The Crown claimed all the land, including the forests growing from it and the minerals buried in it, as its own. Through a discussion of the concept of Crown land and the public memory of gold mining that persists in museums and gold-panning theme parks, I consider how gold continues to ground the metaphysics of colonial territory. I would particularly benefit from joining this conversation to think comparatively about gold mining heritage sites as “Denkmals”—places of fate and fortune that prompt moral reflection—or “Mahnmals”—sites of environmental destruction and colonial violence that admonish or warn.
Vienna’s past as the former heart of the Habsburg Monarchy reverberates in multiple ways in the city’s fabrics. In my presentation I move beyond the well-preserved architectural and monumental legacies of the empire that coin Vienna’s city centre as well as its positioning and marketing for touristic purposes. Instead, I turn to the sites of former Habsburg brickworks in Vienna’s peripheral south that provided the material resources for realising the Habsburg architectural dreams.
While the bricks with the imprinted double-headed eagle of the Habsburgs are displayed in a variety of museums and heritage sites, the stories of the migrant workers employed in the brickworks (Ziegelböhm) and the ruined landscape left after the brickworks’ decay following the First World War and the rise of cement are commonly omitted in the narrative. Therefore I argue that analysing imperial heritage through the lens of waste and wasteland brings into focus both unruly legacies of empire and unexpected entanglements as well as alternative forms of heritage-making.
More specifically, I trace the transformation of the brickworks area from an abandoned post-imperial wasteland to a declared natural monument. Considered economically and aesthetically worthless by humans for decades, eventually it was noticed that a biotope unique in Austria had emerged from the ruins of the Habsburg brickworks due to the particular chemical composition of the clay soil as well as the rare transitional character of the landscape with the seasonal flooding and drying-up of the clay pits. Turning the remnants of empire into the components for a new ecosystem, I propose that nonhuman agency and multispecies collaboration are key to understand this process of landscape recovery and heritagisation.
During pandemic lockdown, many New Yorkers were transfixed by activity in a remote corner of Long Island Sound. Very few had visited the high-security site, long administered by the Dept. of Corrections; they encountered it through drone footage showing a hazmat crew digging a burial trench for COVID victims. And the fascination/dread intensified as conditions worsened inside local hospitals and morgues. But these feelings were not new; the island in question, home to the nation’s largest potter’s field (at least a million burials, mostly in unmarked graves), has long been a “dark spot,” a stigmatized place with a tangled history of violence, secrecy and neglect. Its stigma is a product of its association with pauperism and disease, and its function as a repository of externalized waste associated with the city’s reform and penal institutions. Besides the cemetery, Hart Island has housed a prison (built from the remnants of a military barracks-turned-prisoner-of-war camp), a convalescent hospital and tuberculosis sanitarium, a women’s asylum, a reformatory for “wayward boys,” a drug treatment facility, and a Nike missile silo. Each of these has produced mounds of refuse, literal and figurative––not just human remains, ruined buildings and piles of moldering paper documents, but unrecovered (and mostly unrecoverable) stories of human suffering and loss.
Attending to this complex material history, the proposed paper probes Hart Island’s “negative heritage” character (Kolk 2020), arguing that the site––now stewarded by the city’s Parks Department––might yet become a locus of recuperative memory and restorative justice. Indeed, despite its status as a “wounded place,” the island’s unruly materialities constitute what Walter Hood (2020) calls the “detritus of diverse [cultural] origins.” which, if imaginatively engaged, might yet serve as evidence not just of the histories of exclusion and harm, but of communal “resilience, faith, optimism and invention.”
This paper investigates the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as a religious and cultural heritage site. I analyse post-Chernobyl radiation as a nonhuman agent that altered local daily life trans/forming vernacular religion and practices of commemoration. For this paper I approach post-Chernobyl radiation following the given categories of Waste, Energies, and Spirits. Although it is common (on both emic and etic side) to discuss nuclear byproducts in terms of waste, as well as mapping contaminated areas as wasteland, radioactive presence is not solely a man-made production.
Radiation is also energy. Radioactive isotopes exceed in their temporality human civilization, locating radiation among primal powers of nature that predate and possibly surpass humans, as Timothy Morton puts it, “our reality is caught in them”(1). Moreover, radiation is imperceptible for humans directly through their sensorium. It is able to alter and possess/inhabit other objects, spaces and bodies. These characteristics allow for its rapid redefinition from a natural phenomenon into a supernatural one, placing it in the realm of spirits. It has been dramatically under-researched how this technogenic disaster had been framed by the vernacular religious thought. Remote rural areas that withstood contamination were a stronghold of Polesian mythology/demonology, folk Orthodoxy, and traditional healing. The ways in which locals and vernacular religious specialists dealt with the nuclear presence constitutes the focus of my research. I approach these local experiences through the tools of Material Religion and Visual Anthropology.
(1) Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Accessed February 25, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt4cggm7, 130
DAY 2 - 18 May
Panel 3: Heritage in Motion
This paper aims to investigate how things given to local temples generate excess and abandonment practices in contemporary Japan. What, how, and why people “store” at local Buddhist temples? Can biographies of spiritually charged things deposited at a local temple tell a story of a community? How people’s individual material histories become matters of communal concern and local heritage-making practices? While walking a fine line between memory and abandonment, we will discover and map out the material and affective networks of community preservation in Japan’s depopulating regions. We will travel to rural Hiroshima Prefecture to imagine Japanese Buddhist temple communities as storehouses of value and consider Buddhist institutions’ role as anchors of people’s belonging in contemporary Japan. By stepping into the shoes of a local Buddhist priest at Myōkoji temple, we will walk down the corridors of donated artwork, photo albums, plane propellers, Buddhist altars, people’s ashes, and entire households to reveal physical, karmic, and emotional connections people strive to maintain and, in turn, make sense of the anticipated decline in their depopulating regional communities. At a time of increasing global concern about “heritage out of place” and waste, the paper will consider the waste-making impact of religious activity and assess the spiritual, moral and practical implications of managing religious waste in the world’s fastest ageing society. The paper is ethnographically informed and based on 15 months of fieldwork in rural and urban Japan in 2016-2017 and 2019.
When Solomon banished the rebellious jinn, he sent them to Pemba Island, where they encountered indigenous jinns as well as jinns from across the African mainland whose peregrinations had also brought them there. These diverse beings made their homes in, and gave names to caves, trees, valleys, rivers and streams across the island. For centuries, humans have lived among them in a variety of cooperative and oppositional relations. Over the centuries, Muslims from the Hadhramaut and Oman brought more jinn with them. Jinns, with complex histories and genealogies, have long been a form of intangible heritage in Pemba: they are passed down in families and villages across the generations, and the island has long had a reputation as a center of spirit healing. In the 21st century, jinn face three challenges: Deforestation, coupled with ongoing construction, has destroyed their habitats. The impoverished humans who inherit them cannot afford the regular gifts they must make to placate them. And, while ‘traditional’ healers have encouraged the initiation of constructive relations between humans and jinns, the recently invigorated revivalist Islamic practice of ruqya is designed to convert them to Islam – failing that, its aim is to kill the jinns. Jinns ‘gone wild’, on the loose in cities and towns, angry with their former human hostst, are now engaged in a battle for their lives. This paper, based on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Pemba (2019), and also drawing on 20 years of ongoing research, is part of a book project on the mystical imagination in Pemba.
This paper intends to describe the social and environmental controversies involved in the Festa de Yemanjá, a yearly celebration dedicated to the Afro-Brazilian deity of the ocean, which has been declared Cultural Heritage in different coastal areas of Brazil. During these celebrations, ritual offerings like baskets with perfumes and bracelets, bottles of alcohol, and food are delivered in the ocean to please the feminine and maternal goddess. However, in recent years these traditional practices began to raise questions of sustainability. With the spread of ethical concerns about conservation and climate change, the composition of the ritual offerings and the ritual practice are shifting and adapting to reduce their environmental impact. These new ways in which Candomblé followers approach material culture are both a strategy to neutralise accusations of polluting the environment by political and religious opponents like Neo-Pentecostal churches and a form of reaffirming Candomblé as a “religion of nature” in the framework of social and environmental activism. Nevertheless, these ritual innovations jeopardise the general aesthetic of the ritual process in multiple ways. In fact, in religions with strong hierarchical social structures like Candomblé and Umbanda, these shifting paradigms around the idea of environmental conservation need to be rediscussed both with the religious authorities and with the spirits and entities who demand the offerings to be made in a certain way. Drawing from data acquired during extensive fieldwork in São Paulo, Brazil, I will analyse the tensions between innovation, cultural heritage and waste in the context of the climate crisis.
In conversation with a fictional time traveller, visual artist Vibha Galhotra and writer Fouad Asfour will explore the questions: How is waste turned into heritage? Are our utopias the material heritage of tomorrow? The presentation will attempt to conceptualise issues which evade the grasp of our approach to reality – where words become invisible monuments of past spaces and artworks elevate utopias into memorials. Utilising the practice of Critical Race Scholar Derrick Bell (1989), we will unpack blind spots of today through a performative fable-telling lecture. The conversation will shift the moment of disaster and apocalypse from our future imaginations into the traveller’s past. For the time traveller, our distinction between realities of our contemporary waste and imagination of catastrophe have merged into a complex cluster of heritage which has turned into a complex memorial. With an interested, though dispassionate sense, the alien will interrogate contemporary beliefs around waste so as to explore its various dimensions. The presentation will study these questions in a multi-perspective exchange between visual artworks, writing and materialities of waste. The discussion will unpack waste as invisible monument (Asfour et al 2013) and explore processes in visual art which turn waste into spiritual objects. In Galhotra’s works, for example, a jar with canned clean air speaks about the current pollution in Delhi, while in Sediment (2011-12) mud of the river Yamuna is embalmed in resin. In Untitled (from the series Life on Mars) (2018-19) a NASA image of the planet’s surface is reproduced using Gunguroos, small metal bells worn as an ornament by married women in Indian indigenous cultures.
Panel 4: Sensing Heritage
In this contribution, I dwell on atmospheres as a key energetic aspect of heritage. As emotions poured into space and “ecstasies of the thing”, atmospheres are material and spatial phenomena, but operate differently from the things and objects that are predominantly associated with material heritage. Atmospheres as “half-things” intermingle with felt-bodies and are responsible for the felt and somatic aspects of places, environments, and remnants associated with different pasts.
As a beleaguered minority within the Muslim minority of Mumbai, and in India at large, Twelver Shi‘is are stuck between a prominent past and marginal present. Nowadays, the great majority of Mumbai Twelver Shi‘is are poor and marginal migrants from North India and their descendants. They struggle to claim a right to the city in which traders of their sect once played a prominent role when colonial Bombay turned into the imperial hub of the Indian Ocean. I draw attention to the energetic and atmospheric dimensions of this heritage that recurring Twelver Shi‘i ritual events and religious processions emanate in the city. Sonic and other atmospheric dimensions of ritual practices in the city’s public places, such as the longstanding Muharram rituals in memory of the battle of Karbala, also contribute to making particular neighborhoods “Shia” by appealing to felt aspects of belonging. Shi‘i Muslims produce these atmospheres of a prominent Shi‘i past spilling into urban space in situations of tense sharing and in the face of powerful counterclaims over the city by both Hindu nationalists and the Sunni majority among Muslims.
In January 2021, the Turkish government published a website, https://www.weremember.gov.tr/, in honor of international Holocaust Remembrance Day. The web site and earlier Holocaust commemorations are utilized as a platform to claim moral superiority of the Ottomans/Turks as the savior and protector of Jews. President Erdogan’s recent discovery of the history of Atlantic slavery through his diplomatic visits to West Africa has provided a similar platform for heritage-making through negation of European cruelty. As in the remembrance of the Holocaust, the politics of comparison embedded in the neo-Ottomanist official discourses turns the commemorative sites of transatlantic slave trade into opportunities for reclaiming an Ottoman heritage of tolerant and just governance. Studying the politics of commemoration, condemnation and comparison in contemporary Turkey through the official discourses on the Holocaust and Atlantic slavery together, we show how memories of genocide and enslavement elsewhere invoke ancestral pride here by silencing Armenian Genocide and Ottoman slavery. In so doing, we contend that the conjuring of imperial legacy requires the imagined absence of tragedy as much as the presence of monumentality and ruination; or in Trouillot’s words, the silences as much as mentions.
The proposed paper seeks to challenge the assumption that processes of heritagization necessarily entail secularization. Discussing the fuzzy boundaries between heritage and ritual, I analyze the intersection of a mediatized spectacle that focused on celebrating national heritage with the ritual invocation of deities and the negotiations of tangibility and intangibility it involved. I draw on the ethnographic example of a heritage ritual that has been performed for a leading politician in Sri Lanka. I argue that the mediatized performance that aimed at celebrating the politician through the display of national heritage while realizing the nation as audience rendered the labor of the ritual practitioners to establish a temporary space for the gods invisible. Yet with the support of both material objects as well as verses, certain dance steps and purification ceremonies, the ritual practitioners created a tangible presence of the gods, while the presence of the nation remained volatile. Hence, in this complex negotiation of presence and absence, tangibility and intangibility, it were not the deities but the mediatized actualization of the nation that was out of control. Materiality, as the example will show, is not limited to physical remains. Instead, I suggest to read the tangible presence of the gods for whom a temporary space was created as the materialization of non-human actors in the staging of heritage.
Since the establishment of Ghana’s independence, libations, along with Christian and Muslim prayers, have been part and parcel of the country’s symbolic nationalism. Performance of these acts at public functions is meant to celebrate the spirit of unity and tolerance in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. While Christian and Muslim prayers have been performed in an uninterrupted manner for the past decades, the pouring of libation has been a sensitive issue, more so since the ascendance of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity. Owing to the negative associations ascribed to indigenous practices and the associated non-human entities, certain political leaders, most notably presidents John Kufuor and John Atta Mills, opted to omit libation pouring from major state functions. Recognizing that the question of libation pouring has been discussed from historical and political perspectives, my goal is to explore the role and status of non-human entities in the controversies surrounding the practice. What role do indigenous deities play in the arguments voiced for or against libation-pouring? When framing the issue in terms of heritage, to what extent are non-human entities taken into consideration? In the context of heritigization, why is it more problematic to preserve practices that involve indigenous deities compared to practices that involve Christian or Muslim gods? In other words, considering the institutionally secular set-up of Ghana, why are only libations, and not Christian or Muslim prayers, reframed as purely cultural acts? The paper will contemplate these questions by building on statements and commentaries made by public figures and common citizens in Ghana’s printed and online media.
DAY 3 - 19 May
Panel 5: Museum and its Malcontents
Since the beginning of 2000s UNESCO developed an interest towards the Sufi branch of mystical Islam and marked 2007 the “Mevlana Year” to celebrate 800th anniversary of the birth of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, the 13th century Sufi philosopher who is known for his teachings on spiritual love. In the following year, the ecstatic Mevlevi ritual called Sema was added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Following these two happenings, the Mevlana Museum where the tomb of Mevlana is exhibited started attracting more than 2.5 million visitors every year from all over the world. Believers of Abrahamic religions along with hippies, shamans, Osho followers, mediums and fortune tellers among many others meet in December in Konya, the notorious city of today’s Turkey for Islamic conservatism, and call their gathering the ‘love pilgrimage’. For the pilgrims, the visits to the musealized tomb of Mevlana, joining to the whirling dervish rituals and collective recitations of his poems are ways to “align” with Mevlana’s energy of spiritual love. Analyzing processes of culturalization of an Islamic saint and reflecting on my ethnography on diverse ways of engaging with a culturalized-religious site the presentation asks what happens to the genealogies of inheritance when people go to museums to align with energies of the exhibited objects? It suggests that centering the attention to sensing allows us to think outside of the secular-religious and tangible-intangible divide that manufactures heritage. More significantly, it argues that connecting to heritage through sensing enables genealogies that are not drawn by shared historicities and geographical references.
This paper addresses the intimate relationship between the material things and immaterial spirit-residents of a home, connecting past and present in a historic house museum in New York City. I explore how Merchant’s House Museum (MHM) develops a style of intimate curation that structures the site as a continued home. While much of the scholarship on thanatourism and ghost tourism emphasizes the trauma and violence surrounding death and the dead, MHM positions their ghosts as attentive stewards of the house who, together with the staff, work to care for their home as an affective and intimate space of individual lives. The museum itself is invested in presenting their site as a heritage space narrating the local history of 19th century New York City; however, this historic house museum is also actively presented as a continued active home for the spectral family members. These ghosts become figures who animate the historic house and bind the objects, rooms, and environments to the intimate and personal space of a home. In particular, I examine the figure of Gertrude who lived within the home from her birth in 1840 to her death in 1933, and afterward in her spectral form until today. She anchors many of the museum’s ghost stories and is an active presence that must be considered, consulted, and cared for within the museum. Through my interviews, archival research, and participant observations on ghost tours, I argue that the ghosts of the family help facilitate the curation of intimacy where visitors confront a personal home and not a site of uninhabited heritage commemorating past lives.
Made of an old shoe and rags tied together with string, the Shoe Doll is a captivating and famous object at the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh. This paper will explore the Shoe Doll’s journey from waste to heritage: unwanted materials assembled into a child’s toy, collected by an ethnographer, displayed in a museum, and re-animated by contemporary artists.
This vital object (or assemblage, or being) was collected by Edward Lovett, an Edwardian folklorist researching the ritual origins of dolls. From 1905–15, he hunted the streets of East London collecting ‘emergency dolls’ made of bones, rags and rubbish, describing them as ‘crudely made and sometimes apparently ugly makeshifts’.When Lovett’s collection entered the Museum of Childhood in the 1960s, they were re-termed ‘emergent’ dolls, evoking a liminal status that anticipated Winnicottian ideas of transitional objects.Two contemporary artists offer insightful commentary on the Shoe Doll’s animistic power. To photographer Wendy McMurdo, the Shoe Doll belongs in the ‘pre-history of the robot’; in her work, digital manipulations echo the life-giving ‘intensity of children’s beliefs’ (Hopkins, 2014). Kate Davis’s drawing series ‘Eight Blocks or A Field’ called attention to the transformative act of looking, showing how a playful gaze (cf. Montessori, Froebel) can hold multiple realities: a shoe is a doll is a friend.This paper will interrogate the biography and significance of one object, while speaking to larger themes; the ethics of collecting,the status of children’s objects, and how glamour and power accrues to extraordinary non-human beings.
The use of human remains in determining race and racial theory in the emerging disciplines of anthropology and archaeology during the C19th is well known. Bodies and body parts went to medical as well as to natural history and anthropology collections. When dead people were collected from communities for these purposes there was scant consent from indigenous or colonised peoples and the beliefs of those whose remains were taken had no bearing on how their bodies were used.
Arguably, this was just as true within Britain as, after the 1832 Anatomy Act, the unclaimed bodies of the poor could be taken to be dissected. The 1834 Poor Law was an additional punishment for ‘the crime of poverty’.
The case of human remains in museums and their significance other than as mere objects of study, is gaining increasing significance. The 2004 Human Tissue Act, passed after the scandal at Alder Hey children’s hospital, has affected the treatment of human remains in museums.
Recent London museum exhibitions have attracted restitution requests. Oceania at the Royal Academy in 2018 contained ‘many objects that Pacific Islanders consider living treasures’; Maqdala at the V&A reopened debate on the presence of the spiritual, cultural and religious symbols of Ethiopia in different museums. This paper will contextualise the procurement of human remains and religious symbols in British museums, how their display as material artefacts puts intangible belief on show and how understanding of their continuing human importance needs to be incorporated within the new Museum Definition.
Panel 6: Haunted legacies
The section of the orthodox christian cemetery in Siret, where children with disabilities that had died at the neuropsychiatric children’s hospital are buried, is markedly different from the rest of the cemetery. It is made up of anonymous graves, the differences between individual graves are so barely perceptible that it gives the impression of a mass grave. In other sections one can see tidily kept graves and gravestones. At the entrance to the section for children with disabilities, one can see a large monument erected recently to the memory of the children buried there. The monument was erected soon after an investigation was initiated in June 2018 by a government agency involved with researching the ‘crimes of communism’ and preparing criminal trials against the alleged perpetrators. The investigation drew media attention to the several hundreds of deaths that had occurred at the children’s hospital during the 1980s determining local actors to become involved in re-signifying the space of the cemetery. My presentation will focus on the practices of partial and fragmented restauration and resignification of the deaths of children with disabilities in the local memory landscape and its most significant space, the orthodox cemetery. Drawing on archival and ethnographic data, I will investigate these practices in relation to transnational memory landscapes (such as that of the criminalization of the state socialist past), (pseudo-)scientific necropolitical distinctions surrounding disability and local power and memory dynamics concerning the past of the now closed neuropsychiatric children’s hospital.
Memorials and museums are the colonial legacy which are based on the ruins and waste of previous empires. This deliberate need to commemorate the events through building something new release or sometimes revive the discomforting pasts. Although this practise adopted and continued in the decolonised world, the reasons and actions are justified in different manners. In case of British India, the ruins of the Mughal empire in Delhi (that existed before colonial rule) were converted into waste after the “Mutiny of 1857”, and was used as the source to narrate the betrayal of Indian soldiers and martyrs of this violent rebellion. This event in Indian is also known as the first revolt of independence according to nationalist historians. Later, during partition and independence of India in 1947 put these pre-colonial monuments as the temporary settlements for migrated people. Changing nature and use of these monuments and memorials force us to question the role they played and still do, for the empire and the nation state. And how one monument can be a witness of more than one event of the past, and raise feelings of discomfort and pride at the same time. Through this paper, I would like to see that once waste of pre-colonial rule was used to narrate different stories in imperial colonies, and in the post-colonial world became a source of inspiration to selective past and moulding it according to nationalist ideas.
In 2018 Toungouma, the stone said to render justice in Dogondoutchi Département, Niger, was stolen. When it was found, the stone, an iconic piece of Niger’s pre-Islamic heritage, lay in shatters. The grandson of the earth priest in charge of Toungouma later admitted to having stolen it. The spirit of Tougouma, having allegedly converted to Islam, had ordered him to destroy the stone. Yet some proclaimed the stone fragments were fake; the real Toungouma was now hidden, unavailable to most. Such claim was in keeping with a narrative that associates land clearing, urbanization, and Islamic reforms with diminished knowledges and ecologies and frames the past as simultaneously haunting presence and burdensome heritage. Taking Derrida’s (2006:24) notion that “one never inherits without coming to terms with some specter” as a point of departure, I use the destruction of Toungouma to consider how “the urgent proximity of non-human presence” (Amitav Gosh 2016) unsettles the discrete time frames that conventional understandings of heritage presuppose. In the last century efforts to standardize Islamic practices in Niger led to the demonization of spirits, the destruction of shrines, and the marginalization of non-Muslim religious specialists. Islamic iconoclasm has not erased the past, however. The past routinely infiltrates the fractured present in the form of spiritual attacks, haunted places, and frightening encounters. I reflect on the question of heritage as specter through a discussion of Tougouma, focusing not on its materiality but on the histories it recruits and that unite disparate temporalities, topographies, and agencies.
Remembered pasts in contemporary Northern Ireland are complicated by the ghosts of “the Troubles,” the ethnonationalist civil conflict from 1969 to 1998. These ghosts are discussed in mass media as metaphorical—unresolved issues that stem from the near 30-year civil war in the northern six counties of the island of Ireland. Yet, in traditional culture, and evermore present in discourse on heritage, these ghosts are seen as real actors that inhabit the landscape and beg tourists and locals to test for themselves if acts of political violence stay only in one’s historical imagination. This paper draws on ethnographic and archival research that I have conducted in Northern Ireland regarding the tradition, evolution, and performance of contemporary and historical ghost narratives. By focusing on the role of heritage as it relates to the Troubles, this paper will examine how ghosts become actors in the construction of a history that is ever present in Northern Irish daily life. Elaborating on Michele Hanks’s scholarship on haunted heritage, this paper will center on the haunted site of Narrow Water castle that houses an official heritage ghost from the 17th century, which is promoted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Narrow Water is also home to an unofficial heritage ghost of the Troubles from 1979, which is conspicuously absent from tourist board materials. Juxtaposing these two ghosts thus illuminates our understanding of the ways in which official and unofficial discourses are emplaced, preserved, and complicated by the mechanisms of state authority and collective remembrance/collective forgetting.