MAKING ETHICS CONVERSATIONS ACCESSIBLE
A PROJECT BY DR ANGELA STIENNE
"But everyone loves mummies!"
That's where our story begins. It's 2016, and all I hear whenever I mention that I'm doing a PhD on Egyptian mummified bodies is this one sentence. Except I spend enough time in museums, in lecture rooms, in pubs even, talking to people about bodies in museums, and I know that's not the full picture. But where can people express differing views? They need a platform. One that's for everyone.
Mummy Stories is born.
Over the years, Mummy Stories has evolved. It went from a platform dedicated to exploring ancient Egyptian human remains in museums, to a more encompassing project that explores displaced and displayed human remains in museums and culture more generally. It went from collecting public stories, to fostering conversations, hosting guest blogs by emerging museum leaders, and hosting events around the UK and Europe. It is now also part of a book, Mummified, The stories behind Egyptian mummies in museums, published by Manchester University Press in June 2022.
But the ethos of Mummy Stories remains the same: the change we want to see in the display, study and retention of human remains in museums starts with better, more human, more accessible conversations, and with greater awareness of the historical past, greater understanding of the contemporary debates, and much greater listening and care for the communities linked to the bodies that museums host.
A conversation about being human.
You may notice that we do not share pictures of human remains here.
We used to. In fact, at the inception of Mummy Stories, every story was accompanied by the photograph of human remains. We're sharing this here because we believe in transparency, but also because we want to show that changes happen, and that they are part of transforming practices in ethics. So we did disseminate human remains photographs, and now we do not have a single one on this website, and we never will share photographs of deceased humans here. Why? Because Mummy Stories is about challenging practices and raising new standards for an ethical and inclusive practice in museums, both in-person, and perhaps more crucially digitally. The dissemination of photographs of human remains poses ethical challenges, that have wide reaching consequences for communities related to the bodies in question; but photographs also make many people uncomfortable for cultural, religious, and personal reasons and that would be excluding a lot of people from our conversations from the onset. And well, that's the opposite of what we aim to do!
Projects Mummy Stories delivered around mummified human remains. From left to right: human remains symposium at the University of Leicester; Displaying Egypt symposium at the British Museum; Refugee Week workshop at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery
"I am here not to give answers and new certitudes, but to facilitate a conversation about life and death and museums and bodies— especially bodies that are other, from a different time, a different culture, different places. I am a shaper of communities and a facilitator into complicated conversations. I am not here to convince you of anything other than the fact that it is always a good idea to lift the veil and to ask: why?"
DR ANGELA STIENNE