Discussion and Q&A, Moderated by Kathleen Brown (U Penn)
What is the place of the U.S. in relation to global imperialism? In what ways have the dual histories of settler colonialism and slavery influenced collection and exhibition practices? What are the implications for the ways we think about and enact forms of decolonization and reparation?
Ciraj Rassool is professor of history and director of the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of the Western Cape. He was the chairperson of the District Six Museum and council chairperson of Iziko Museums of South Africa, and was also on the councils of the National Heritage Council and the South African Heritage Resources Agency. Rassool is a board member of the South African History Archive, and is also a member of the Human Remains Advisory Committee of the Minister of Arts and Culture, South Africa. He is also an Associated Member of the Global South Studies Center at the University of Cologne and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Luschan Collection (Berlin).
Rassool is co-author or co-editor of several books about museums and public culture including Skeletons in the Cupboard: South African Museums and the Trade in Human Remains, 1907-1917, Recalling Community in Cape Town: Creating and Curating the District Six Museum, Museum Frictions: Public Cultures/Global Transformations, and The Politics of Heritage in Africa: Economies, Histories, and Infrastructures. He was recently a fellow at Morphomata Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Cologne.
Pamela L. Geller is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Miami. Her research starts from the premise that material and human remains communicate crucial information about the socio-political processes that impel the production of identity. In publications, she brings together varied concerns—bioarchaeology and biohistory; critical social theories about gender, sexuality, race, and nation; biopolitics and necropolitics; sociopolitics of the past; and bioethics. And, more recently she has become obsessed with plastics as 21st-century material culture in need of urgent archaeological attention.
Her publications include The Bioarchaeology of Social-Sexual Lives(2017, Springer Press), co-edited volume Feminist Anthropology (2006, Penn Press), numerous journal articles, and op-eds. She is also editor of the Routledge book series The Archaeology of Gender and Sexuality. Her current book-in-progress, titled Your Obedient Servant, is based on her biohistorical study of Samuel G. Morton and his controversial crania collection. Over the years, Geller has conducted fieldwork in Israel, Hawai’i, Belize, Honduras, Perú, and Haiti.
Monique Scott, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the History of Art Department at Bryn Mawr College and is the Director of Museum Studies at the College. Her work centers on how early museums and anthropology produced persistent visual codes for promoting racial hierarchies and denigrating people of African descent. After receiving her PhD in Physical Anthropology from Yale University in 2004, she worked for more than ten years as head of cultural education at the American Museum of Natural History. Scott’s early work, the basis for her 2007 book Rethinking Evolution in the Museum: Envisioning African Origins, considers representations of Africa in natural history museums. She argues that museum visitors often interpret African origins as linear, color-coded narratives of progress from bestial African prehistory to a civilized, European present, and that the sources of these teleological assumptions derive both from exhibition media and the racial folklore circulating outside the museum.
Scott’s recent research focuses on the collection and representation of African art and artifacts in various Philadelphia museums, particularly the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Her archival research into the history of African collections aims to shed light on how the image of Blackness was constructed and manipulated, and how the residues of those Western imaginings still reside in museums and popular culture today. Scott was also on the curatorial team responsible for the renovation of the Penn Museum African galleries, and in 2019, Scott co-curated the temporary exhibition at the Penn Institute of Contemporary Art “Colored People Time: Quotidian Pasts.” She is also a Consulting Scholar for the Africa Section at the Penn Museum, a Research Associate in Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History and is on the African-American Collections Committee at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Jenny L. Davis is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and an Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where she is the director of the American Indian Studies Program.
After earning undergraduate degrees from Oklahoma State University, she obtained a MA and PhD in Linguistics University of Colorado, Boulder. Before coming to UIUC, she was a Henry Roe Cloud Fellow in American Indian Studies at Yale University, and a Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral Fellow in Linguistics at the University of Kentucky.
She is the 2019-2023 Chancellor’s Fellow of Indigenous Research & Ethics. In this role, she is working to develop campus initiatives, including a campus-wide NAGPRA office, to ensure that the University is knowledgeable about and in compliance with U.S. and tribal government policies and protocols through collaborating with faculty, the NAGPRA Officer, campus and tribal leaders, and advising the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors on issues involving ethical research of Indigenous people, histories, and cultures. She also serves as the co-chair of the campus NAGPRA Advisory Committee.
Her research focuses on contemporary Indigenous language revitalization; Indigenous gender and sexuality; and collaborative methods, ethics, and repatriation in Indigenous research. Her research has been published in the Annual Review of Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Gender & Language, Language & Communication, and the Review of International American Studies (RIAS), among others. She is the recipient of two book prizes: the 2019 Beatrice Medicine Award from the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures for Talking Indian: Identity and Language Revitalization in the Chickasaw Renaissance (University of Arizona Press, 2018) and the 2014 Ruth Benedict Book Prize from the Association for Queer Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association for her co-edited volume Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Her poetry manuscript, Trickster Academy, is forthcoming from the University of Arizona Press Sun Tracks Series, and her creative work has most recently been published in Transmotion; Anomaly; Santa Ana River Review; Broadsided; North Dakota Quarterly; Yellow Medicine Review; As/Us; Raven Chronicles; and Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance and exhibited at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.
Kathleen M. Brown is the David Boies Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in the history of gender and race in early America and the Atlantic World, the comparative history of race, gender, and sex, and the history of abolition and human rights. Educated at Wesleyan and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she is author of Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia, which won the Dunning Prize of the American Historical Association. Her second book, Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America, received the Organization of American Historians’ Lawrence Levine Book Prize for cultural history and the Society of the History of the Early American Republic Book Prize. Brown is also author of numerous articles and essays. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and a fellow of the Omohundro Institute for Early American Studies at the College of William and Mary, the American Antiquarian Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Her current project, Undoing Slavery: Abolitionist Body Politics and the Argument over Humanity, is a book-length interdisciplinary study of the transatlantic abolition movement set in the context of contemporary transformations in international law, medicine, and domestic ideals.