The Bridge is a new Mummy Stories project introducing individuals around the world whose professional or personal life intersects with the question of the ethics of human remains in museums. We've asked them to share one word, one initiative, one approach and one sentence with us. Let's discover what they are sharing and let's bridge the gap in the conversation!
Hi! I am a researcher and museum worker currently based at the University of Kent, where I am in the final stages of my PhD. My research examines how literary and cultural methods drawn from Indigenous and (post)colonial studies can be used to enact heritage futures within and beyond the museum itself. Previously, I have worked at the Science Museum and Wellcome Collection on managing sensitive items in the shared Wellcome Historical Medical Museum Collections. Although I don't work directly with ancestral remains, my work with culturally sensitive artefacts and ancestors means I am attentive to the specific ethical and material concerns that arise in colonial-era collections, particularly amidst items that were collected to illustrate pseudoscientific theories of racial hierarchy and difference.
Relinquish: Those working in institutions that have historically imposed colonial power need to be able to relinquish this power, and act with humility towards ancestors in collections and the descendants who claim them.
The Indigenizing Manchester Museum project is implementing creative and practical approaches across all aspects of Manchester Museum. The toolkit that Alex [Alberda] and the team have put together is a fantastic resource that would be a great reference resource for anyone looking to proactively confront these challenges in their own institutions.
Decolonisation; The term itself is rich in history, and its meaning has become watered down through a lack of critical engagement with the bodies of work that engendered its emergence. Also, if the sector isn't prepared to engage with decolonisation in a material sense, and really think about what this might look like from a UK perspective, it's not worth using this language to describe other initiatives that are essentially diversifying representations and displaying collections more sensitively.
I hope that soon we will be able to move past binary conversations of whether to return or retain ancestral remains (amidst other items!) in UK collections and allow more creative and provocative strategies for collections engagement to develop beyond the museum-space itself.
Shelley Angelie Saggar (she/they)
School of English/Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies, University of Kent Latest article: "A dangerous tool in the wrong hands": Sovereign technologies in Alanis Obomsawin's Is the Crown at War With Us? and Barry Barclay's The Kaipara Affair, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2022.