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


This book has analysed the connections between anthropology, colonialism, and headhunting in the Portuguese empire between 1870 and 1930 by examining the micro-history of the circulation of human skulls and the stories told about them. The investigation mapped the movement of objects and documents. The notion of the archive as circulating collections of records enabled me to explore the connections between skulls and networks of texts and stories over time and across boundaries. This revealed that links between the skulls and such semantic networks were contingent and vulnerable. It also revealed that connections between colonialism, headhunting, and anthropology might well result from the retrospective construction of knowledge about them. The epistemic ordering of the historical identities of things created multiple connections between colonial contexts, ritual violence, and anthropological concepts. The micro-history of the Coimbra collection of Timorese crania brought these broader issues to light. In now concluding, I intend to elaborate on some of the implications of the materials discussed here and to explore the wider potential of the argument about colonial interaction and anthropology adopted in the previous chapters. Firstly, I will consider the significance of parasitism as a conceptual framework for the comparative study of colonialism and intercultural exchange. Secondly, I will observe how an approach focused on objects and its circulating archives might open up new directions in the historical analysis of collections.


Human Remains Museum Collection Colonial Rule Colonial Power Colonial History 
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    Georg Simmel, ‘The Problem of Sociology’, in On Individuality and Social Forms. Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Donald Levine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 24.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Ricardo Nuno Afonso Roque 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social SciencesUniversity of LisbonPortugal

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