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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Colonial Body Archives – A Media Studies Approach

Colonial Body Archives – A Media Studies Approach



This project explores contemporary knowledge practices related to colonial collections of human remains in European museums and scientific archives. With respect to requested restitution these 'sensitive objects' (Berner/Hoffmann/Lange 2011) have been subjected (once again) to various identification procedures. Although 'modernized', some of the applied methods appear disturbingly close to colonial identification procedures of 'race' and 'sex' that rendered human bodies into scientific objects of colonial collections in the first place.

Given this tension, I will analyze the persistence of anthropometric and morphological approaches in contemporary anthropological and forensic knowledge practices. The project introduces a media studies perspective on the nitty-gritty techniques of metric-statistical data generation, statistical techniques and imaging processes into the debates about the legacy of colonial collections and the restitution of human remains. I will follow the medializations the human remains undergo, thus the transformations from the very materiality of bones into data, into data work, correlations and comparisons into the eventual results from which provenance is assessed. Bringing together Science & Technology Studies with Media Studies I will develop a theoretical framework that reflects about the colonial legacies of an encounter of metric-statistical and visualisation technologies with the very materialities of the body. Taking into consideration the use of forensic-anthropological methods in human rights politics, I will discuss the multiplicity of anthropometric identification methods, categorizations and medial transformations of bodies in physical anthropology, forensics and beyond since the late 20th century with respect to their colonial hauntings.


Starting: October 2019 (one year)

Webmaster: Dr. Doris Löhr

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