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Trajectories of Human Skulls in Museum Collections

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Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS)

Abstract

The preceding chapter described colonial headhunting in Timor as a circulatory system that interconnected European and indigenous societies. The ritual circuits of severed heads could empower the Portuguese and their allied Timorese communities. This close contact was also organized by boundaries of purity and dangers of pollution, and the Portuguese pragmatic principle of preservation of customs. Accordingly, severed heads as physical things were expected to circulate strictly within Timorese territories and to remain in the possession of Timorese communities. Thus, if the pace of colonial warfare in the nineteenth century increased and intensified the ritual circuits of decapitated heads, these tended to remain local, confined to the island. These ritual circuits, however, could be evaded, and severed heads re-networked in European circuits, outside of Timor. The following chapters of Part II will examine why and how that could succeed. This chapter initiates this inquiry with the analysis of two large consignments of Macanese and Timorese collections sent from Macao in 1880-82. The intention is to explain the travels of these collections as ‘trajectories’ of things attached to, or detached from, words.

Keywords

Human Remains Museum Collection State Administration General Catalogue Human Skull 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    The notion of script is borrowed from Akrich and Latour, who use it to designate the type of work done by the designers of ‘technical objects’. Cf. Madeleine Akrich, ‘The De-Scription of Technical Objects’, in Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law (eds), Shaping Technology/Building Society. Studies in Sociotechnical Change (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), pp. 205–24; Madeleine Akrich and Bruno Latour, ’A Summary of a Convenient Vocabulary for the Semiotics of Human and Nonhuman Assemblies’, in Bijker and Law (eds), Shaping Technology/Building Society, pp. 259–65.Google Scholar
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    This museum’s purpose was ‘to collect, preserve, and display for public examination the various products and objects that can help the knowledge, economic study, and profitable use of the varied wealth of our overseas possessions.’ Cit. in José Silvestre Ribeiro, Historia dos Estabelecimentos Scientificos Litterarios e Artisticos de Portugal nos Successivos Reinados da Monarchia (Lisbon: Typ. da Academia Real das Sciencias, 1889), XVI, p. 304. See also Luís de Andrade Corvo to Governors of Angola, Cap Vert, St. Thomé, and Guinea, 10 April 1891, Lisbon, AHU, Museu Colonial de Lisboa, Diversos Documentos, Deposit 1, Case 4, Shelf 6, Folders 744–766.Google Scholar
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    Lacerda, ‘Portaria 21. Governo de Timor. 30 April 1879’, p. 149. Duarte’s report was published in the Bulletin. See Albino da Costa Duarte, ‘Relatório âcerca da digressâo feita a alguns pontos de leste da ilha de Timor. 12 Dezembro 1879’, BPMT, XXV, 28 (1879), 149.Google Scholar
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    Similar instructions were used in Portugal since the 1860s for organizing collections to World Exhibitions. They were made in the image of French museum instructions. Luís de Andrade Corvo, Instrucçôes para Serem Colligidos nas Províncias Ultramarinas os Diversos Productos que Devem Figurar no Museu Colonial de Lisboa (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1876). See Cantinho, O Museu Etnografico, pp. 84–5.Google Scholar
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    By 1880 the Royal College of Surgeons of England held the largest anatomical collections of the races of men in Britain. It had become heir to Hunter’s collection, and in 1880 purchased Barnard Davis’s collections. William Henry Flower, Catalogue of the specimens illustrating the Osteology and Dentition of Vertebrated animals, recent and extinct, contained in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Part I. Man: Homo Sapiens (London: Taylor and Francis, 1879), p. vii.Google Scholar
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    Flower was setting his ‘historical’ catalogue against the ‘old [descriptive] catalogue’ of Richard Owen (his predecessor at the Museum). Flower, Catalogue of the specimens, p. v. [my emphasis] Cf. Richard Owen, Descriptive Catalogue of the Osteological Series contained in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons (2 vols, London: Taylor and Francis, 1853).Google Scholar
  21. 89.
    Thomas Bendyshe, ‘Editor’s preface’, in J. F. Blumenbach, The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, trans. and ed. T. Bendyshe (London: Longman, 1865), p. xii.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Charles Guignon, On Being Authentic (London: Routledge, 2004), ch. 4Google Scholar
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  27. 101.
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  29. an example of a cultural biography of one museum skull is Edgar V. Winans, ‘The Head of the King: Museums and the Path to Resistance’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 36, 2 (1994), 221–41. For a critique of these approaches from this perspective see Ricardo Roque, ‘Human skulls and museum work: sketch of a perspective on miniature histories’, in Diogo Ramada Curto and Alexis Rappas (eds), Colonialism and Imperialism: Between Ideologies and Practices, European University Institute, Dept. History and Civilization, EUI Working papers HEC 2006/01, 2006, pp. 85–98, http://cadmus.iue.it.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  31. 105.
    In Strauss’s words, illness trajectory refers to (i) the ‘physiological unfolding of a patient’s disease’ in the material body over time; and (ii) ‘the total organization of work done over that course, plus the impact on those involved with that work and its organization’. A. Strauss, S. Fagerhaugh, B. Suczek, C. Wiener, Social Organization of Medical Work (revised edn, New Brunswick: Transaction, 1997), p. 8.Google Scholar
  32. [italics in the original] For developments of the trajectory concept in the sociology of medicine, see, for example: Stefan Timmermans, ‘Mutual Tuning of Mutual Trajectories’, Symbolic Interaction, 21, 4 (1998), 225–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tiago Moreira, ‘Incisions: A Study of Surgical Trajectories’ (D. Phil. dissertation, University of Lancaster), 2000Google Scholar
  34. Susan Leigh Star and Geoffrey Bowker, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999), ch. 4.Google Scholar
  35. 106.
    Gift exchange is a theme exhaustively covered by anthropological literature, although museum gift economies in Europe have received little attention. A broader discussion of these museum economies, however, would take us beyond the scope of this chapter. The classic reference is Marcel Mauss, ‘Essai Sur le Don. Forme et Raison de l’Échange dans les Sociétés Archaiques’, Sociologie et Anthropologie (Paris, 1923–4, reprint Paris: Quadrige, 2001), pp. 145–279. But for a recent study that suggests the importance of gift relationships in Western museum networks, see Henare, Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange. See also: Zimmerman, Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany, pp. 168–9.Google Scholar
  36. 107.
    Cf. Susan Pearce, On Collecting: An Investigation into Collecting in the European Tradition (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 33.Google Scholar
  37. 108.
    Krzystof Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice, 1500–1800 (Cambridge: Polity, 1990), p. 8.Google Scholar
  38. Cf. for an insightful article on the problematic of decay and conservation, Catherine DeSilvey, ‘Observed Decay: Telling Stories with Mutable Things’, Journal of Material Culture, 11, 3 (2006), 318–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ricardo Nuno Afonso Roque 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social SciencesUniversity of LisbonPortugal

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