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Repatriation as Inspiration

Multigenerational Perspectives on American Archaeology-Museum Relationships

April M. Beisaw and Penelope H. Duus

ABSTRACT

At the turn of the twentieth century, American museums helped to legitimize archaeology as a scientific discipline. By the next century, repatriation legislation had forced archaeologists to confront the dehumanization that can take place when bodies and sacred objects are treated as scientific specimens. Charting the future(s) of archaeology-museum relationships requires us to (1) recognize where, when, and how harm has been done, (2) confront those harmful precedents, and (3) restructure collections and exhibits in ways that heal wounds and advance research. Current research on the 1916 Susquehanna River Expedition, an archaeology-museum project funded by George Gustav Heye, provides insight into how our predecessors viewed their work. Using the expedition project as backdrop, an archaeology professor and an undergraduate student engage in a dialogue that explores the changing roles of American museums as the public faces of archaeology, training grounds for young professionals, and cultural centers for us all.