Questioning anthropology museums: an introduction

Of skeletons and whisky

Skeletons – Collectors ought not to neglect to preserve the skeletons of the different species of animals. Of man, the skull is the most interesting part, as it varies in the different races of the human species, and is also frequently singularly altered by the practices of savage tribes. The best way of cleaning bones, is to expose them to the air, and allow the insects to eat off the flesh. This being done, they ought to be washed with sea water, and afterwards freely exposed to the sun. The best skulls are obtained by putting the whole head in rum or whisky, or a strong solution of alum; both male and female heads ought if possible to be preserved1.


Charles Darwin considered Robert Jameson (1774-1854), professor of natural history at Edinburgh University, to be “incredibly dull”2. He nevertheless played a leading role in the expansion of the Edinburgh museum of natural history, whose core collection dates back to 1697, doing much to enhance its reputation and improve access to its holdings. The position of keeper of the museum, initially linked to the chair in medicine, was transferred to that in natural history once it was established in 1767. It was in this capacity that Jameson wrote a Set of Instructions for Collectors in 1817 – an excerpt from which is quoted in the epigraph above – to give “ministers and public servants abroad” detailed indications about how to preserve various types of specimen, a topic he also addressed in his lectures3. To his mind, it was self-evident that “of man, the skull is the most interesting part, as it varies in the different races of the human species”. The works of the Dutch anatomist Peter Camper (1722-1789), who developed the facial angle theory, and those of Johann Frederick Blumenbach (1752-1840), a physician in Göttingen, who classified humankind into five “races” based not on skin color but on craniometry, were key references by Jameson’s time. Their own collections of skulls had become models to be emulated4. Jameson also warns against the bizarre alterations that “savage tribes” practiced on skeletons and skulls. This propensity of “savages” to modify their own nature, emphasized by a vast body of scholarship throughout the early modern period, was included by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) in his classification as a “monstrous” variety of homo sapiens5.

But it is the explanation of the requisite stages in the proper handling of skulls that is most worthy of attention for our purpose. The practice of conserving specimens in rum (or whisky, in its Scottish variant) was widespread on transoceanic voyages to bring the “curiosities” of the natural world back to Europe. Less typical was the description of the technique of cleaning bones by flesh-eating insects. In his “An instructive note on the researches to be carried out relative to the anatomical differences between the diverse races of man” (1799), drawn up for “naturalists” on captain Baudin’s expedition to the Australian Lands, Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) had explained how simple it was to prepare anatomical “objects” for transport to Europe: “boiling the bones in a caustic soda or potassium solution and removing their flesh only takes a few hours”. Or to “bring back heads with flesh” still intact, which were also very useful for “observers of man”, “it is simply a matter of placing them in a solution of corrosive sublimate”6. Like Jameson subsequently, Cuvier insisted on the fundamental importance of “gathering anatomical pieces in a single locality and comparing them there in all their relations”. For the naturalist could not rely on drawings of “modern voyages” which “reflect the rules and proportions that the artist learnt in European schools”. It is thus in museums that one may conduct “observations on the physical and moral characteristics of each race”7. These instructions of Jameson and Cuvier reveal the process transforming how European societies related to dead bodies: in the early nineteenth century, desacralization and objectification were becoming general.

Jameson’s instructions were furthermore part of the Linnaean tradition of natural history at the University of Edinburgh, where students were invited to embark on colonial expeditions and learn how to travel and classify the natural world - including humanity and its “particularities”. In the past few decades, a growing number of studies has focused on the disciples of Linnaeus who were sent out across the globe armed with precise instructions (Instructio peregrinatoris, 1759), while much attention has been paid to the material techniques and marketing strategies forming the “Linnaean tradition”8. These studies show that eighteenth-century naturalists relied extensively on all sorts of amateur and professional collectors to gather specimens and skeletons from the four corners of the globe. They were indispensable to fill what have been called “bone rooms”, places where bones were amassed to study and classify humankind9.

The first step was to procure and conserve the raw material. By the eighteenth century, however, it was the “method of ordering” objects via classification and presentation systems (such as catalogs or labels) – rather than the “act of possessing nature” – which mattered most10. The approach was that of the natural sciences. Initial collection/description was followed by classification, then generalization and the extrapolation of laws. The museum was to account for this undertaking. The ordered display cases in its galleries laid out the process for visitors.

The status of objects – skulls, casts, embalmed bodies, anatomical preparations, drawings, or other items – changed once they entered a museum open to the public. They were henceforth part of ordered, learned discourse about the history of humanity, as narrated by their installation. Their meaning depended on what was in their immediate vicinity, on how they were exhibited, on the objects surrounding them, and on the accompanying paratext. Returning to Jameson, the objects he exhibited acquired the status of tangible scientific “proof” of the classification of man into distinct “races”. The display cabinets were there to show this to visitors, whose active role as cultural consumers has been emphasized by historiography since the late 1990s11. This was a worldwide phenomenon, whose development and chronologies varied from one country to the next.


In the glass box

The purpose of this digression is to explain what motivates our special issue. It arises from an encounter between joint interests developed in various fields of research and rooted in two main types of reflection: the first on public uses of the past, the second on the construction of racial categories. Anthropology and ethnology museums are at the center of shared preoccupations about the continuing presence of race in public spaces. This seems to have become an ever more topical and visible issue. From this perspective, the editorial board of Passés Futurs thought it possible and worthwhile to reflect on a particular category of museum, namely anthropology museums, or more specifically ethno-anthropology museums, as they are nowadays the central (but not sole) place where humanity is placed on public institutionalized display. To this end, colleagues working in different disciplinary approaches have been solicited. For this reflection needs to be conducted at the intersection between history, sociology, anthropology, epistemology, the history of art, and the history of science.

The ambition of this introduction is circumscribed, as it cannot give a full account of the complexity and richness of the issues raised by the papers published here. My aim is rather to sketch out some general reflections and highlight a small number of questions, as seen from my own field as a historian engaged in researching the conceptions of humanity that took form during the Enlightenment.

George Cruikshank, The Mermaid ! (1922)

George Cruikshank, The Mermaid ! (1822)

The exhibition of mermaids is a phenomenon that continued in the 19th century, as this satirical stamp shows

In the long history of museums, which it is not relevant to reexamine here, may we clearly distinguish when anthropology museums emerged? May we apprehend their specificity? While distinctive for focusing on human groups, anthropology museums have a multi-stranded genealogy. One would be misguided to try to simplify this genealogy, for that would eclipse the significance of the historical complexity characterizing how societies have related to the category of “humankind”. Objects representing distant cultures, even humans themselves, were to be found in curiosity cabinets, a characteristic feature of the history of Western collecting since the Renaissance12. It would nevertheless be a gross distortion to see these as the sole origin of anthropology museums. Human “curiosities” were exhibited prior to becoming an established museum practice, as Pietro Corsi points out in his conclusion (“From the Museum pictum to the specimen in Museums”). The list of human “monsters” exhibited in princely courts, markets, coffeehouses, and fairs is a lengthy one: hairy men and women, dwarfs and giants, bicephalous and macrocephalus individuals, and man-fish beings, or mermaids, were part of the attractions13. Some have become notorious, such as Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815), the “Hottentot Venus” who was bought in South Africa in 1810, and displayed during her lifetime as a fairground attraction in Britain, Holland, and then France, before being measured, dissected, and embalmed by Georges Cuvier. Finally, she was placed on display in the brand-new museum of natural history in Paris14.

Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815) exposée au Musée de l’Homme

Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815) exposée au Musée de l’Homme

Furthermore, the exploration and exhibition of the human body acquired a new and central dimension with the development of anatomy15. Eighteenth-century anatomy museums, among which the reputation of the Specola in Florence is still paramount due to the artistic quality of its anatomical waxworks, sometimes gave way to museums of pathological anatomy, in the penumbra of modern hospitals, or to army museums whose anthropological collections were built up in step with the conquest of vanquished or dominated peoples16. This diverse range of exhibition places raises another aspect of analysis, though it may only be mentioned in passing: the generic appellation “anthropology museum” should not blind us to the development of variants, such as ethnology or ethnography museums, or to the fluid contours these institutions may have depending on the country in question and the changing relationship between these three fields in disciplinary and organizational terms17.  

Musée de La Specola (Florence)

Musée de La Specola (Florence), modèles anatomiques en cire

For a historian of the eighteenth century, there is no clear-cut boundary between “learned” and “popular” places, a distinction which would also need clarification. Displaying humanity predated anthropology museums. It occurred in many places, and was almost omnipresent in religious spaces, where relics and skulls were part of daily life18. It was in the eighteenth century that museums started systematically exhibiting human bodies, either whole or in pieces, even though the earliest anthropology, ethnology, and ethnography museums were only founded in the mid- or late nineteenth century. The ethnography museum of the St Petersburg academy of science (1836), the national ethnology museum in Leyden (1837), the Peabody museum of archaeology and ethnology at Harvard (1866), the Berlin museum for ethnology (1873), and the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford (1884) inaugurated “the great period of museum anthropology”19. In France, the Trocadéro ethnography museum (1882) was the antecedent to the museum of man (Musée de l’Homme) created in 1937. The new site received the anthropological collections from the museum of natural history20.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was an increasing number of anthropology museums in Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world (as evidenced by this issue). They echoed each other21, opened their doors to many different publics with varying motivations, and, depending on the museum, combined research and popularization. Nowadays they are increasingly called into question for their role as “display cases of humanity”, and are at the heart of public debate whenever they are open, close, or are restored. One of the most recent instances in France was that of the Musée Jacques Chirac, Quai Branly in Paris, plans for which sparked much controversy22. Where and how has humanity been – and continues to be – exhibited? In what ways have skeletons, skulls, embalmed bodies, photographs, casts, and artefacts been used to account for human diversity? And what is the case now? These questions, that this issue addresses from specific historical situations, echo transformations in research fields – ethnology in France, and cultural anthropology in the English-speaking world in particular – whose development tracks that of museum “displays”.

These museums are, at one the same time, “places of knowledge”23, “contact zones”24, and “forums”25. They propose public accounts of history that are never neutral, be it in their preservation or in their exhibition of the past. Everything counts. Where does the object come from? How and why was it obtained then transported? What path brought it to the museum? How was it transformed into a “scientific object” then positioned in the museum space? How is it described, catalogued, and exhibited? What is shown, and what remains hidden? How does it show what is shown? These questions, which are pertinent for all objects, are equally so for human remains. Nevertheless, with remains, ethical and ontological issues take on greater substance and complexity, to which is added a particularly pressing moral and political dimension nowadays.

The anthropology museum has become one of the places most explicitly associated with racial theories, due to its role in expressing differences. Do they reinforce racial differences? What have been the technical procedures used to make differences appear? Are they the privileged place of legitimization for human diversity as an object of learning and knowledge? This is also linked to the question of the dividing line between “museums of the Self” and “museums of the Other”, as suggested by Benoît de L’Estoile26, raising still further questions: how have the populations represented been involved in staging their representations? What links are there between these populations and the bodies displayed in museums?

The question of who these particular items belong to, and of their restitution – to whom? how? – has fueled a growing number of legal cases involving anthropology and museography specialists together with citizen movements, law firms, and ministries27. Since the late 1980s, the legitimacy of collecting and showing “different humanities” and “human remains” has been a matter of increasing debate, both from the point of view of international law and from that of public opinion, which is increasingly sensitive to such issues. As Irina Podgorny and Laura Miotti sum up, the past has been turned into a “battlefield”28.

“Decolonizing” anthropology museums?

An ever larger number of papers, monographs, multi-authored volumes, and special issues of journals engage with these questions, increasingly questioning colonialism and the “collecting of the indigenous dead”29. “Decolonizing” anthropology museums is a key term in this debate, whether presented as a need or as a project (first but not solely because all forms of museum have come in for criticism). In the shift from the post-colonial to the de-colonial, the issue of the political role of anthropology museums and their public usages has risen up the agenda of scholarship on museography throughout the world30. The key point to emerge from these works is the complexity of any attempt to categorize humanity and account for how each society relates to its past and its ancestors. But what this special issue also highlights is that questions pertaining to how “races” are represented are not solely a matter of relations between former colonizers and colonized. Alice Berthon’s article on the Japanese national museum of ethnology, the Minpaku, which opened in 1977, is a telling illustration of this (“Denying empire: the national museum of ethnology in Japan”).

It is not our purpose, in any case, to go over all the matters foregrounded by this abundant scholarship. This issue does not seek to be exhaustive or to build up a linear narrative based on existing scholarship. On the contrary, it takes due note of the heterogeneous domains in which exhibitions of humanity are studied, but without trying to hierarchize them. It also notes the variety of questions they explore. But it further sets out to show how important it is to tackle the matter collectively and from an interdisciplinary perspective. This issue seeks to enquire into anthropology and its history, confronting it with the history of science, of techniques, and of art. We believe it is impossible to think about how anthropology museums originated without taking their visual dimension into account. Otherwise we lose sight of part of how a museum functions, and we would fail to apprehend its fundamentally performative and aesthetic character31. The casts discussed in Lucia Piccioni’s paper (“Duplicating and hierarchizing humanity”) provide an excellent illustration. In the mid-nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth century, anthropologists seeking “proofs of authenticity” employed the technique of facial casts, initially perfected in Ancient Rome to produce funeral masks for votive purposes. Photographs by Lidio Cipriani (1892-1962) illustrate the smug arrogance of anthropologists taking the cast, who cared little about the invasiveness of the procedure, and depict the dominance introduced over a model obliged to remain in an uncomfortable and dominated position. While a photograph cannot recount the historical context – in this instance, fascism, heightening the symbolic power of this bodily confrontation –, it brings out a type of violence which, though hardly new, was presented in anthropology museums as objective evidence, assisted by the handmaidens of science, technique, and art32.  

Lidio Cipriani (1892-1962)

Lidio Cipriani (1892-1962) en train de réaliser un moulage sur le vivant

It thus strikes us as crucial to stress the historical dimension of the topic, starting with consideration of the European colonial enterprise. For, it is within this framework that museums of natural history, anatomy, and subsequently anthropology arose. They then became an expression and a tool of such an undertaking. Recent research on the eighteenth century, specifically its second half, when slave trading peaked in Europe, confirms this aspect. It is thus not possible to speak of “neutral collections” for this period either. The curiosity displayed in cabinets may no longer be viewed as innocent, with scholarship focusing on the links between curiosity and merchandise, empire and slavery. Recent works have shown how the underpinnings of slavery informed every aspect of European metropoles, filtering into their cultural life and circles of learning33. This perspective underscores the central role played by transatlantic slave-trading networks in expanding European collections of natural “curiosity”, be they plant specimens or human skulls. We thus address the question of whether curiosity imposed an order on the trafficking in goods and human beings in the Atlantic world, or was rather a means of collecting the world without ordering it 34.

The founding of the British Museum was based on the collection of specimens built up by Irish-born physician Hans Sloane (1660-1753) during his time in Jamaica (1687-1689), where he made a fortune by profiting from the labor of African slaves on sugar plantations. Over and above his direct connection with slave trading, which lasted long after his return to England, the exotica in his collection displayed in his house on Bloomsbury Square in London included objects issuing from the trade, such as collars, whips, and chains. Their presence in the natural history cabinet of the future president of the Royal Society attests to a factual interest in matters of slavery as a “curiosity”, in which a taste for the rare was combined with an appetite for the monstrous35. Adopting the naturalist approach of deriving facts from observation, he built up a repertoire of slavery practices that the abolitionist movement of the end of the century subsequently used to prove another form of monstrosity, namely that of the Europeans towards Africans36

Hans Sloane dans l’Enlightenment Gallery

Buste de Hans Sloane dans l’Enlightenment Gallery, British Museum

The circulation of objects, ideas, and humans through slave-trading networks thus shaped the new scientific knowledge of the Enlightenment, influencing in turn the development of the slave trade itself37. In Britain, museums emerged as one of the places via which the question of slavery became established within the public sphere. The British Museum has recently recognized this issue on its website38. The case of France, analyzed here by Anne Lafont, also shows this link between curiosity and exhibition, between fair and museum. Lafont particularly emphasizes the major contribution made by the graphic arts – alongside accounts and anatomical dissections – to knowledge about and representation of humanity, reduced, as she puts it, “to the form of still lifes in museums”.

The second point to be emphasized is that of how items were exhibited. What are we to do with this legacy today? How may we think about it constructively? If museums were invented as a colonial technology, is it possible to conceive of decolonizing museums? What does it mean to “decolonize” anthropology museums? The works presented here do not purport to provide a unique and unanimous answer to such important questions, but rather to share doubts and questions arising from the singular histories of each of the museums under consideration. Is it possible to historicize “anthropological” objects, to integrate the political and economic context of their production into museum practices? How are we to account for the historicity of modes of exhibition in modernizing and conserving these types of museums? What are the practical, legal, and scientific consequences of “decolonizing” anthropology museums?

Musée Lombroso

Musée Lombroso (Turin)

In recent years, museums have changed their way of exhibiting items. The articles about the Lombroso museum in Turin show that in changing how things are exhibited, the meaning of the display changes. As Maddalena Carli observes (“Patrimonializing deviance”), while in the original museum as founded by Lombroso spectators were plunged into what was intended to prove and express human deviances, in the present-day museum visitors are separated from the objects on display. They thus acquire a “testimonial value”. The distance between the spectator and the object comes from the display cases, the detailed comments, the explanatory video clips, and by the decision not to exhibit certain items (which are however available to researchers in the depositories). On other occasions, such as the anthropology museum in Florence studied by Lucia Piccioni, collections are stored in boxes that neither the public nor researchers may access.

In a now classic book on the origins of public museums, Tony Bennett suggests they be understood as places not only for teaching but also for reforming regulated social performances and routines. The public, didactic, and reforming dimensions come together in the presentation and exhibition of the past39. Yet it remains an open question whether it is still possible to exhibit human remains. How to cope with the ever greater number of requests to restitute objects? And who is to decide and settle such questions?

Shortly before the third millennium, Jean Jamin published an article with the provocative title: “Faut-il brûler les musées d’ethnographie ?” (“Should we burn down ethnography museums?”). Fifteen years later, Benoît de L’Estoile asked “can French anthropology survive the loss of its museums?”, making the important point that “however rhetorical the question may seem, it is of key importance for an entire generation of anthropologists in France”40. For in France – unlike other countries, such as Britain, for example – it was museums that drove the institutionalization of social anthropology, particularly the national museum of natural history which developed into an institution specifically for the study of “man”. This is what is emphasized by the key concept of a “museum laboratory”41. Yet despite its exemplary track record of commitment to the unity of humankind, it is no better able to resist calls for restitution than other museums.

Paul Rivet (1876-1958), who held the chair of anthropology at the national museum of natural history, was the first director of the museum of man, which opened to the public in 1938, propelled by the Front Populaire government. Wishing to “save the science of mankind from fragmentation”, its mission was to respond to Nazi anti-Semitism and its ideology of race. The museum was thus founded with the civic purpose of displaying the unity of human nature to the general public. While rejecting any hierarchical vision of the human races, Rivet and his colleagues did not thereby question the legitimacy of the French Empire. This is what Alice Conklin refers to as the “colonial paradox of the musée de l’Homme”: “the musée de l’Homme was meant to be simultaneously universalist, colonialist, and antiracist”42. The ambiguity of this legacy resurfaced in public debate when the musée de l’Homme reopened to the public in 2015, after a seven-year renovation campaign.

The human and the national: museums of confrontation

This edition is deliberately not centered on France or Europe, voyaging instead through time and space. Alongside France and Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Argentina offer specific case studies bringing out singularities as well as common perspectives. The presence of two articles about the Lombroso museum may seem redundant, yet it reflects what initially motivated this special issue. The public attacks against it, which were particularly fierce in 2010 during the 150th anniversary of Italian unification (but still continue today)43, seemed to our minds symptomatic of the complex ties between politics, ideology, and public debate. Silvano Montaldo’s article (“En finir avec Lombroso?”) brings out the vicissitudes of the Lombroso myth in Italy, and summarizes the heated dispute surrounding a figure who catalyzed criticism (as well as praise for several decades) from all quarters. This echoed the political, ideological, and scientific choices Cesare Lombroso made during his lifetime, which took on very different meanings after his death, and are still evolving today.

The museum experiences analyzed here, drawn from specific, situated historical contexts, often associated with forms of nation-building, may ground considerations about more general topical questions. Other museums could have been examined - possibly more telling or significant. But once again, our concern has not been to set out an exhaustive or linear account. The countries studied here as samples are such as to partake in a common reflection, particularly on the irony in thinking of nation-building in tandem with creating a museum as a way of legitimizing this undertaking. Several articles opt to go over the confused and arbitrary process for fabricating a museum. Such is the case of the La Plata museum examined by Irina Podgorny (“Du Musée au Panthéon”), which shows “the constitutive disorder of its physical layout”, highlighting the ambiguities of a project described by Philippe Descola as an “excellent image of the world as long conceived”44. Nevertheless, what transpires is the construction of the scientific reputation of the founder of its collection, Francisco Moreno, described by Podgorny as a man who, though little respected by his contemporaries, became emblematic of what it is to be Argentinian.

Musée de La Plata

Musée de La Plata

As for the creation of the national museum of anthropology in the city of Mexico examined by Johannes Neurath (“Temple de la nation et lieu sacré wixarika”), it is without doubt one of the first achievements of the government of independent Mexico, being founded by presidential decree in 1825. Nevertheless, its origins and initial development, recently studied by Miruna Achim, were most tumultuous. The process of nation-building that the museum was meant to embody resulted from complex and often paradoxical negotiations and from a non-linear history45. Its more recent history - the focus of Neurath’s article - shows the museum to be “a place of disputed power”, tugged in different directions by political centralism, the neo-evolutionism of archaeologists, and references to a mythical Aztec-Mexican history. Drawing on a surprising example, he shows how one of the country’s many “indigenous groups”, the Huichols (or Wixáritaris as they call themselves) from Ocota de la Sierra to the north of Jalisco, have managed to reclaim objects from their traditions and culture displayed in the museum.

Musée national d’anthropologie de Mexico

Musée national d’anthropologie de Mexico

The national question is also addressed in Alice Berthon’s article, which looks at the Minpaku to explore how a museum without collections may be produced. She shows that opposition to the Western museum model served a discourse that denied colonial imperialism and the Japanese Empire. Using the example of the Ainus, an “indigenous minority” in Japan subjected to a policy of assimilation, Berthon explores what she identifies as the “a-colonial” rhetoric used by the founders of the first ethnology museum in Japan. What is there in common between the two extremities of Eurasia, and between Mexico and Sapporo? This may seem a rhetorical question. However, joint consideration of the articles by Neurath and Berthon suggest a latent tension between state centralism and resistance by indigenous populations seeking to reassert control over a part of their history which has been “stolen”  as Jack Goody puts it – to be displayed in museums where they go to reclaim it46.

Musée national d’ethnologie du Japon, ou Minpaku

Musée national d’ethnologie du Japon, ou Minpaku

Irina Podgorny adds to this debate, showing how these questions lie at the heart of political action and discourse. She compares the arguments put forward in the United States and Australia for restituting the bones, skulls, and funereal objects of indigenous cultures, with the very different ones deployed in Argentinian discourse seeking to relocate them to the Mapuche pantheon in the town of Trenque Lauquen. Taken together, these articles emphasize the complexity of the relationship between these museums and European museums, which serve both as models and as anti-models.

As a historian of racial questions in the Enlightenment, I am puzzled and concerned by attitudes that seek to solve a problem by hiding or silencing it. Racism does not disappear because we abolish the word “race”, and nor does it disappear if we hide the signs of racial classifications which have shaped the history of Western anthropology. Quite the opposite, in fact. Yes, anthropology museums come with a history in which, slavery, aesthetic prejudice, and many other types of violence are an integral part. We need to be aware of this. But examining the ambivalences and contradictions in building knowledge is, in my opinion, a key element for thinking about our past and present-day societies. It is a matter of continuing the endeavor to find the right ways to address our contemporaries and to confront shifting problems.

All these articles, based on studying in different ways the history of a particular museum, illustrate the links between ethnography/anthropology, museums, and colonial policies. They all bring us back to the role that the social sciences play in the public manufacture of history, and to our individual and collective responsibility in defining the contemporary world and how humans relate to one another47.

Unfold notes and references
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Robert Jameson, “Set of Instructions for Collectors”, Literary and Scientific Intelligence (a section in The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany), vol. 1, 1817, pp. 367-369. I wish to thank Linda Andersson Burnett for having shared with me her ongoing work into the teaching of natural history in Scotland, and its links to colonial practices during the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century.

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Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882 (ed. Nora Barlow), London, Collins, 1958, p. 52. Referring to Jameson’s geology and zoology lectures, Darwin writes: The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on geology or in any way to study the science”.

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Jessie M. Sweet, “Instructions to Collectors: John Walker (1793) and Robert Jameson (1817); with Biographical Notes on James Anderson (LL.D) and James Anderson (M.D.)”, Annals of Science, vol. 29, no. 4, 1972, pp. 397-414. See too Arthur MacGregor (ed.), Naturalists in the Field. Collecting, Recording and Preserving the Natural World from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2018.

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Peter Camper, The Works of the Late Professor Camper, on the Connexion between the Science of Anatomy and the Arts of Drawing, Painting, Statuary, &c &c in Two Books... Translated from the Dutch by T. Cogan, M.D [1786], London, C. Dilly, 1794; Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa [1775], third edition, Gottingae, Apud Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1795. For an English translation, see The Anthropological Treatises of Blumenbach and the Inaugural Dissertation of John Hunter on the Varieties of Man, translated and edited by Thomas Bendyshe, London, Longman for the Anthropological Society, 1865. Both Camper and Blumenbach started thinking about the subject in 1770.

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Carl Linnaeus, Systema Naturae [1735], twelfth edition, Stockholm, L. Salvii, 1766-1768. As of the tenth edition in 1758, Linnaeus’ taxonomy divided mankind into two species: on the one hand, Homo Sapiens, and on the other, the Troglodyte, of which the orangutan is an example. Linnaeus initially placed Homo Sapiens in the class of mammals because of its mammary glands, then in the order of primates, because of its dentition, and divided it into four varieties based on geography and skin color (white Europeans, red Americans, yellow Asians, and black Africans), to which he added homo ferus (corresponding to “wild children" found in woods) and homo monstruosus – grouping "deformations" due to nature and to art (macrocephalus Chinese, Patagonian giants, Hottentots with a single testicle, etc.). See Gunnar Broberg, “Homo sapiens. Linnaeus’s Classification of Man”, in Tore Frängsmyr, Sten Lindroth, Gunnar Eriksson, & Gunnar Broberg (eds.), Linnaeus. The Man and His Work, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983, pp. 156-194. More generally, see Lisbet Koerner, Linnaeus. Nature and Nation, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999.

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See Jean Copans & Jean Jamin, Aux origines de l'anthropologie française. Les Mémoires de la Société des Observateurs de l’Homme en l’an VIII, Paris, Editions Le Sycomore, 1978; for the quotations, see Georges Cuvier, “Note instructive sur les recherches à faire relativement aux différences anatomiques des diverses races d’hommes” (1799), p. 175. The expedition led by Nicolas-Thomas Baudin (1754-1803) left Le Havre in 1800 on a mission to map the coastline of the Australian continent and study the particularities and productions in all the natural orders, including man. The interest of the “Société des observateurs de l’homme” (1799-1805) is also confirmed by the publication in 1800 of Considérations sur les diverses méthodes à suivre dans l'observation des peuples sauvages by Joseph-Marie de Gérando (1772-1842). On the “Société des observateurs de l’homme”, see Jean-Luc Chappey, La Société des Observateurs de l’Homme (1799-1804). Des anthropologues au temps de Bonaparte, Paris, Société des Études Robespierristes, 2002.

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Georges Cuvier, “Note instructive sur les recherches à faire relativement aux différences anatomiques des diverses races d’hommes” (1799), in Jean Copans, Jean Jamin, Aux origines de l'anthropologie française. Les Mémoires de la Société des Observateurs de l’Homme en l’an VIII, Paris, Editions Le Sycomore, 1978, p 174. On the “collection of the world”, see Marie-Noëlle Bourguet, La collecte du monde : voyage et histoire naturelle (fin XVIIIe siècle-début XIXe siècle), in Claude Blanckaert, Claudine Cohen, Pietro Corsi, Jean-Louis Fisher (eds.), Le Muséum au premier siècle de son histoire, Paris, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, 1997, pp. 163-196.

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See, for example, Hanna Hodacs, Kenneth Nyberg, Stéphane Van Damme (eds.), Linnaeus, Natural History and the Circulation of Knowledge, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2018. On the Edinburgh connection, see the article by Linda Andersson Burnett and Bruce Buchan, The Edinburgh connection: Linnaean natural history, Scottish moral philosophy and the colonial implications of Enlightenment thought”, pp. 161-185.

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Samuel J. Redman, Bone Rooms. From Scientific Racism to Human Pre-History in Museums, Cambridge Mass, Harvard University Press, 2016. See also Ann Fabian, The Skull Collectors. Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2010.

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As long emphasized by an abundant body of scholarship. See, in particular, Giuseppe Olmi, L’inventario del mondo. Catalogazione della natura e luoghi del sapere nella prima età moderna, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1992; Paula Findlen, Possessing Nature. Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy, Berkeley-Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1994.

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John Brewer & Roy Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods, London, Routledge, 1993; Ann Berminham & John Brewer (eds.), The Consumption of Culture, 1600-1800. Image, Object, Text, London, Routledge, 1995; Daniel Miller (ed.), Acknowledging Consumption, London, Routledge, 1995. On the creation of an anatomy museum in London in the eighteenth century, see Simon David John Chaplin, John Hunter and the “museum oeconomy”, 1750-1800, PhD Thesis, Department of History, King’s College London, 2009.

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In the enormous body of historical scholarship, see the classic study by Krzystof Pomian, Collectionneurs, amateurs et curieux. Paris-Venise, XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Gallimard, 1987. See too Oliver Impey, Arthur MacGregor (ed.), The Origins of Museums. The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985.

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For example: Palmira Fontes da Costa, The Singular and the Making of Knowledge at the Royal Society of London in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009; Anita Guerrini, “Advertising Monstrosity: Broadsides and Human Exhibition in Early Eighteenth-Century London, in P. Fumerton, A. Guerrini, & K. McAbee (eds.), Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2010, pp. 109-130.

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In this issue see the papers by Anne Lafont and Pietro Corsi. In the very extensive literature, see Claude Blanckaert (ed.), La Vénus hottentote entre Barnum et Muséum, Paris, Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 2013. See too the first work by François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar (L’invention du Hottentot. Histoire du regard occidental sur les Khoisan (XVe-XIXe siècle), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2002), who has returned to this topic in his latest work: À la recherche du sauvage idéal, Paris, Le Seuil, 2017.

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Rafael Mandressi, Le Regard de l’anatomiste. Dissections et invention du corps en Occident, Paris, Le Seuil, 2003; Id., “Of the Eye and of the Hand: Performance in Early Modern Anatomy”, TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, vol. 59, no. 3, 2015, pp. 60-76; Id., “Le regard scientifique: cultures visuelles des sciences”, in Stéphane Van Damme (ed.), Histoire des sciences et des savoirs, vol. 1, De la Renaissance aux Lumières, Paris, Le Seuil, 2015, pp. 230-253.

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La ceroplastica nella scienza e nell’arte. Atti del I congresso internazionale, Florence, Leo Olschki, 1977; Benedetto Lanza, Maria Luisa Azzaroli Puccetti, Marta Poggesi, Antonio Martelli, Le Cere anatomiche della Specola, Firenze, Arnaud, 1979; Laura Speranza (ed.), Mirabili orrori. Cere inedite di Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, Florence, Polo Museale Fiorentino, 2010; Elena Taddia, “Une teste de cire anatomique”, Bulletin du Centre de recherche du Château de Versailles, 2016 [en ligne]. "Human zoos" will not be discussed here.

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See in particular, Jean Jamin, “Le musée d’ethnographie en 1930: l’ethnologie comme science et comme politique”, in La Muséologie, selon Georges Henri Rivière. Cours de muséologie, textes et témoignages, Paris, Dunod, 1988, pp. 110-121; Id., “Le savant et le politique: Paul Rivet (1876-1958)”, Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d'anthropologie de Paris, new series, vol. 1, no. 3-4, 1989. pp. 277-294; Id., “Documents revue. La part maudite de l’ethnographie”, L’Homme, vol. 39, no. 151, 1999, p. 257-266.

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Among the works on relics, see Philippe Boutry, Pierre-Antoine Fabre & Dominique Julia (eds.), Reliques modernes. Cultes et usages chrétiens des corps saints des Réformes aux Révolutions, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2009; Stéphane Baciocchi & Christophe Duhamelle (eds.), Reliques romaines. Invention et circulation des corps saints des catacombes à l’époque moderne, Rome, École française de Rome, 2016. See also La mort n’en saura rien. Reliques d’Europe et d’Océanie (Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000), catalogue of an exhibition held in 1999, in what was still called the Musée national des arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie (and has since become the Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration).

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George W. Stocking Jr., “Essays on Museums and Material Culture”, in G. W. Stocking Jr. (ed.), Objects and Others. Essays on Museums and Material Culture, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1985, pp. 3-14; Fabienne Boursiquot, “Musées et anthropologie: chronique d’une séparation”, Anthropologie et Sociétés, vol. 38, no. 3, 2014, pp. 309-323 (quotation on p. 312).

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Claude Blanckaert (ed.), Histoire d’un musée laboratoire, Paris, Éditions Artlys/Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 2015; André Delpuech, Christine Laurière, & Carine Peltier-Caroff (eds.), Les Années folles de l'ethnographie. Trocadéro 28-37, Paris, Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 2017, in the wake of Christine Laurière, Paul Rivet, le savant et le politique, Paris, Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 2008.

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On how museographic “models” were appropriated from one place to another, see the special issue edited by Michela Passini & Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, “La part étrangère des musées”, Revue germanique internationale, vol. 21, 2015 – which also examines museums of medicine, natural history, and anatomy.

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See the special issue “Le moment du Quai Branly” du Débat (no. 147, 2007); Benoît de L’Estoile, Le Goût des Autres. De l’exposition coloniale aux arts premiers, Paris, Flammarion, 2007. Benoît de L’Estoile uses the expression "taste for Others" to designate "the highly varied ways of appropriating ‘things of Others’, understood in the very broad meaning of examples of cultural alterity” (p. 24).

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Christian Jacob (ed.), Les Lieux de savoir, vol. 1: Espaces et communautés, vol. 2: Les Mains de l’intellect, Paris, Albin Michel, 2007-2011.

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James Clifford, Routes. Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, Cambridge-London, Harvard University Press, 1997. On “contact zones", see Mary-Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes. Travel Writing and Transculturation, London, Routledge, 1992.

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Duncan F. Cameron, The Museum. A Temple or the Forum, The Museum Journal, vol. 14, 1971, pp. 11-24.

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Benoît de L’Estoile, Le Goût des Autres. De l’exposition coloniale aux arts premiers, Paris, Flammarion, 2007.

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The report requested by the French president on the restitution of African objects pertains to works of art: Felwine Sarr, Bénédicte Savoy, Restituer le patrimoine africain, Paris, Editions Philippe Rey/Le Seuil, 2018. In France, repatriation ceremonies of Maori human remains triggered much debate: Natacha Gagné, “Musées et restes humains: Analyses comparées de cérémonies māori de rapatriement en sols québécois et français”, Journal de la Société des Océanistes, no. 136-137, 2013 [en ligne].

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Irina Podgorny & Laura Miotti, El pasado como campo de batalla, Ciencia Hoy, vol. 5, 1994, pp. 16-19.

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Paul Turnbull, Science, Museums and Collecting the Indigenous Dead in Colonial Australia, Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

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Among numerous examples, see Tony Bennett, Pasts Beyond Memory. Evolution, Museum and Colonialism, London-New York, Routledge, 2004; Ricardo Roque, Headhunting and Colonialism. Anthropology and the Circulation of Human Skulls in the Portuguese Empire, 1870-1930, New York, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010; Iain Chambers, Alessandra De Angelis, Celeste Ianniciello, Mariangela Orabona, & Michaela Quadraro (eds.), The Postcolonial Museum. The Arts of Memory and the Pressures of History, Burlington, VT, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2014. The international press has also reported on the polemic surrounding the (highly controversial) project for a "museum of discovery" in Lisbon (see for example the September 17, 2018 edition of the Guardian [en ligne]). On decolonization issues, see Claire Wintle, “Decolonizing the Smithsonian: Museums as Microcosms of Political Encounter”, The American Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 5, 2016, pp. 1492-1520; and the 2015 thematic issue of the Internationale Online: Decolonising Museums [en ligne].

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On the relations between art and race between the late seventeenth and the nineteenth century, see Anne Lafont, L’Art et la race. L’Africain (tout) contre l’œil des Lumières, Dijon, Les Presses du réel, 2019.

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On fascist exhibitions, see Maddelena Carli, Vedere il fascismo. Le mostre del Regime negli anni’30, Roma, Carocci, (forthcoming).

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Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2002; Id., “Rewriting the Past: Imperial Histories of the Antislavery Nation”, in Tim Barringer & Wayne Modest (eds.), Victorian Jamaica, Durham, Duke University Press, 2018, pp. 263-77; Id., “Doing Reparatory History: Bringing “Race” and Slavery Home”, Race & Class, vol. 60, no. 1, 2018, pp. 3-21.

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James Delbourgo “Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities: Hans Sloane’s Atlantic World”, website of the British Museum, 2007 [en ligne].

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James Delbourgo, Collecting the World. The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane, London, Allen Lane, 2017.

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James Delbourgo, “The Newtonian Slave Body: Racial Enlightenment in the Atlantic World”, Atlantic Studies. Literary, Cultural and Historical Perspectives, vol. 9, no. 2, 2012, pp. 185-207.

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Kathleen S. Murphy, Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and the British Slave Trade, The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 70, no. 4, 2013, pp. 637-670.

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See, for example, the presentation of Hans Sloane on the British Museum website [en ligne]. See too the website of the natural history museum in London, which has also inherited collections of Sloane’s, which invites the reader to follow a link: “Explore research into how the Museum’s history and collections are connected to the transatlantic slave trade [en ligne].

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Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum. History, Theory, Politics, London-New York, Routledge, 1990.

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Jean Jamin, “Faut-il brûler les musées d’ethnographie ?”, Gradhiva, no. 24, 1999, pp. 65-69; Benoît de L’Estoile, “Musei post-etnografici. Le trasformazioni delle relazioni tra antropologia e museo in Francia”, Anuac, vol. 4, no2, 2015, pp. 78-105. See also Marie Mauzé, Joëlle Rostkowski, “La fin des musées d’ethnographie ? Peuples autochtones et nouvelles perspectives muséales”, Le Débat, no. 147, 2007, pp. 80-90.

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Claude Blanckaert, “Les héritages naturalistes de la “science de l’homme”“, in Cl. Blanckaert (ed.), Histoire d’un musée laboratoire, Paris, Éditions Artlys/Publications scientifiques Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 2015, pp. 87-98.

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Alice Conklin, “1878-1945: le paradoxe colonial du musée de l’Homme”, in Cl. Blanckaert (ed.), Histoire d’un musée laboratoire, Paris, Éditions Artlys/Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 2015, pp. 23-45 (quotation p. 25). See also Alice Conklin, In the Museum of Man. Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850-1950, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2013.

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See Silvano Montaldo, “La 'Fossa comune' del Museo Lombroso e il 'lager' di Fenestrelle: il centocinquantenario dei neoborbonici”, Passato e presente, no. 87, 2012, pp. 105-118; Id., ”Sudismo: guerre di crani e trappole identitarie”, Passato e presente, no. 93, 2014, pp. 5-18; Id. (ed.), “La risacca neoborbonica: origini, flussi e riflussi”, Passato e presente, no. 105, 2018, pp. 19-48. See too Maria Teresa Milicia, “La protesta 'No Lombroso' sul web. Narrative identitarie neomeridionaliste”, Etnografia e ricerca qualitativa, vol. 2, 2014, pp. 265-286; Id, “Noi contro tutti: la solidarietà aggressiva nella web communitas No Lombroso”, EtnoAntropologia, vol. 3, no. 2, 2015, pp. 165-178; Id., “La guerra del cranio, il museo Lombroso e il coraggio della verità”, Micromega, June 7, 2017 [en ligne]; Id., “Retour vers le futur Royaume des Deux-Siciles”, Passés Futurs, no. 4, 2018 [en ligne].

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Philippe Descola, “Par-delà la nature et la culture”, Le Débat, no. 114, 2001, pp. 86-101 (quotation p. 87).

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Miruna Achim, From Idols to Antiquity. Forging the National Museum of Mexico, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2017.

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Jack Goody, The Theft of History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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This issue contains papers presented at a symposium held at the EHESS in December 2018, as well as Andrea Jacchia’s drawings. In addition to the authors here, Pietro Corsi, Rafael Mandressi, and Elodie Richard participated in the workshop as discussants. Some of the journal’s editorial board were present, as were colleagues and students from the EHESS. This introduction and the various articles have much benefitted from their comments, and I here thank all those present.