Biography and the Dead of Anthropology

Ort: Bibliothek des Internationalen Kollegs Morphomata, Weyertal 59 (Rückgebäude, 3. Etage), 50937 Köln

Zeit: 18.00 Uhr

Kontakt: Larissa Förster

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In 1908, the dead bodies of Khoesan people were disinterred from their graves in the northern Cape in South Africa, under the direction of Austrian anthropologist, Rudolf Pöch, who had undertaken an extensive expedition through the region under the auspices of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. These remains were transferred to scientific collecting institutions in Vienna, and were the subject of research at the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography at the University of Vienna, of which Pöch was founding father and first professor. As part of a scientific collection of the physical records of a ‘disappearing race’, these remains were subjected to processes of genericisation, typology and depersonalisation. Yet, as a result of an enquiry that took place at the time into these acts of disinterment, it has been possible to name some of the people whose remains became part of this collection and to even narrate some aspects of their lives and deaths. Amongst the collection were the remains of Kouw and his family and those of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar. While the skeletons of Kouw and his family remain in Vienna, those of the Pienaars became the subject of repatriation negotiations between the governments of South Africa and Austria, and were eventually returned to South Africa and reburied at Kuruman in 2012. The process of return and reburial was described not only as one of ‘repatriation’ but also one of ‘rehumanisation’, with the Pienaars reburied as postapartheid citizens. This lecture is interested to understand these developments, why the remains of the Pienaars were returned and not those of Kouw and his family, what such returns may mean for the museum as an institution, and how useful it is to think of the political lives of the remains of the dead of anthropology through the idea of biography.