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Online Documents of India’s Past

Digital Archives and Memory Production

Katja Müller

ABSTRACT

How can the online distribution of heritage facilitate successful forms of collective online memory production? Two online archives from India are taken as case studies to analyze practices that make online archives effective as devices for recalling and constructing the Indian past. It is not only contextual conditions of the Internet age, but also particular applied practices of presenting, communicating, and using social media that enable it. Yet, the analysis of the two recently created online archives, which are partially driven by the idea of widening access, show that they do not so much set up counterpositions to established conceptions of archives as regulating entities, but rather aim at becoming acknowledged heritage agents.

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Reassembling The Social Organization

Collaboration and Digital Media in (Re)making Boas’s 1897 Book

Aaron Glass, Judith Berman, and Rainer Hatoum

ABSTRACT

Franz Boas’s 1897 monograph The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians was a landmark in anthropology for its integrative approach to ethnography, the use of multiple media, and the collaborative role of Boas’s Indigenous partner, George Hunt. Not only did the volume draw on existing museum collections from around the world, but the two men also left behind a vast and now widely distributed archive of unpublished materials relevant to the creation and afterlife of this seminal text. This article discusses an international and intercultural project to create a new, annotated critical edition of the book that reassembles the dispersed materials and reembeds them within Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw ontologies of both persons and things. The project mobilizes digital media to link together disparate collections, scholars, and Indigenous communities in order to recuperate long-dormant ethnographic records for use in current and future cultural revitalization.

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The Ritual Labor of Reconciliation

An Autoethnography of a Return of Human Remains

Lotten Gustafsson Reinius

ABSTRACT

Having a dual perspective as researcher of expressive culture and museum curator, I engage in the ceremonial aspects of repatriation through a practice-based “museology from within.” Focusing on a handover of human remains by the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm to indigenous claimants from Australia (2004), I combine material from my own participant observation with sources such as interviews and written and photographic documentation. The aim is to bring an autoethnographic perspective to a discussion on the ritual dynamics of repatriation. The transfer of custody and right of interpretation was accomplished with a ceremonial process, cocreated by museum staff and indigenous claimants. Drawing on differing cultural scripts as well as on improvised interplay, participants engaged in turn taking and intercultural translation of symbolic communication. Certain themes were ritualized redundantly, such as mutual exchange and reconciliation, but there also existed the more paradoxical copresence of seclusion and openness, closure and continuation.

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Ritual Processes of Repatriation

A Discussion

Sonya Atalay, Nika Collison Jisgang, Te Herekiekie Herewini, Eric Hollinger, Michelle Horwood, Robert W. Preucel, Anthony Shelton, and Paul Tapsell

Edited by Jennifer Shannon

ABSTRACT

What do those who participate in repatriation—on behalf of the museums and the communities to whom there is return—most want people to know about it? Nine prominent scholars provide short commentaries in response to this special section on the ritual processes of repatriation. The discussants are museum professionals, Indigenous community members, repatriation claimants, and repatriation officers; these are not mutually exclusive categories. They discuss the transformative power of repatriation on museums, communities, and our individual selves, and provide models for appropriate cultural practice and how to demonstrate respect. Their contributions call us to ceremony, to restorative justice, to engage in repatriation, and to witness how it has changed them.

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Sharing Knowledge as a Step toward an Epistemological Pluralization of the Museum

Andrea Scholz

ABSTRACT

This article starts from the question of whether the concepts “cosmopolitan memory” and “shared heritage,” with their inherent universalism, are helpful when dealing with ethnographic collections from the Amazon. After presenting some historical context information on the collections in focus, I contrast different notions of “cosmopolitanism” and “cosmopolitics,” drawing on Latin American perspectives. The latter claim to represent an epistemological alternative to a Europe-centered cosmopolitan project. They propose a focus on difference, which in relation to the museum and its working processes means looking at the collections through the others’ lenses. This approach is applied to a collaborative research project between the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and an indigenous university in the Amazon, in order to document and reflect on the outcomes and dilemmas that have emerged thus far.

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The Three Burials of Aslak Hætta and Mons Somby

Repatriation Narratives and Ritual Performances

Stein R. Mathisen

ABSTRACT

The backdrop for the events discussed in this article is the Kautokeino rebellion in 1852, a violent uprising wherein a group of indigenous Sámi attacked and killed representatives of the local Norwegian authorities. This led to death sentences for two Sámi men who participated in the uprising. While their bodies were buried outside the local church, their decapitated heads were sent away, became objects of research, and ended up in scientific collections. Tracing the intricate movements of these skulls, as well as subsequent indigenous struggles for their repatriation and reburial, the focus here is on the ceremonies arranged in the course of these actions. The ceremonies depart from different narratives and myths connected to these historical events. Contextualization is important to understand how a multitude of different interests and strategies are invested, resulting in different understandings and interpretations in these contemporary ceremonies of repatriation and reburial.

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Tlingit Repatriation in Museums

Ceremonies of Sovereignty

Aldona Jonaitis

ABSTRACT

Tlingit repatriation activities at museums become ceremonies involving both Tlingit and museum staff. These groups connect to one another in a temporary alliance that erases their differences, and for a time celebrates an incorporation of colonizer and colonized. The principle challenge to a successful repatriation is the US legal notion of “right of possession.” Even if items are not returned, some museums have made efforts to allow clans to use them in ceremonies. These complex ceremonial interactions between staff and Tlingit within the museum setting can represent yet another form of these empowering expressions of cultural self-determination, a process we might call repatriation sovereignty.

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Unpacking the Museum Register

Institutional Memories of the Potlatch Collection Repatriation

Emma Knight

ABSTRACT

Working largely from archival documents, this article examines the material traces of the confiscated and repatriated Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw potlatch collection that remains in the museum register. I unpack the museum register to demonstrate that, in lieu of a predetermined repatriation process, museum staff relied instead on existing administrative processes to navigate this largely uncharted territory of repatriation in the 1960s. These highly formalized processes or rituals served to reaffirm institutional identity in the face of an uncontrollable element—repatriation. Using the museum register, this article provides a historical lens through which to view the personal and institutional shifts that were necessary for this early repatriation to occur. The contemporary repatriation ceremonies performed by Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw peoples and the contemporary significance of the repatriated regalia in Alert Bay and Cape Mudge point to the ways repatriation processes and relationships have changed over time.

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“We Owe a Historical Debt to No One”

The Reappropriation of Photographic Images from a Museum Collection

Helen Mears

ABSTRACT

A collection of photographs by colonial officer and amateur anthropologist James Henry Green now in the collections of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery has been extensively reappropriated and reused by members of the Kachin community from northern Burma who originally formed their subject. This article considers one specific use, in a music track and video produced as part of a collaboration between a Burma-based Kachin rap artist and a Kachin singer and media producer currently living in China. Released at a critical moment for the Kachin community, following the recent breakdown of a long-standing cease-fire agreement between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese government, the track and video reveal some of the tensions at play between the outward-looking, transnational, and cosmopolitan tendencies of the growing overseas Kachin community and the nostalgic, territorially based ethnonationalism that has been at the heart of Kachin demands for greater political autonomy since the 1960s.

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Analyzing Museum Collections in Scandinavia

New Insights in Revised Modernity and Its Implications on Archaeological Material

Niklas Ytterberg

ABSTRACT

This article emanates from studies and analyses of collections in cultural-historical museums in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway within the international research project CONTACT, concerning contacts between the aforementioned countries in southern Scandinavia during the Middle Neolithic (approximately 3000 BCE). This case study intends to raise questions related to research strategies at the museums holding the collections, in relation to the demand from research institutions using them. In what ways could these strategies coincide, and in what ways could they diverge? In what ways could we improve the research strategies for a better use of the collections?