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Title: Tongued with fire : Encounters between museum visitors and displayed human remains
Author: Gordon, Peter
ISNI:       0000 0004 2703 1245
Awarding Body: Royal Holloway, University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 2009
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The display of human remains in Western museums is established practice but one that has been increasingly contested by a variety of constituencies. Nonetheless, such displays continue to attract UK museum visitors. However, little is known about what encountering human remains in museum settings actually means to visitors or about the methods through which researchers can access such responses. Also comparatively little is known (at least from the Anglophone literature) about the display of human remains in non-western museum settings, where remains may be those of actual or imagined ancestors of both staff and visitors. The thesis contextualises human remains within available literature on material culture before considering the poHtks and poetics of the collection and display of Peruvian mummified human remains in three museum settings: the Wellcome Collection (London), the Museo Inka in Cusco (Peru) and the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana in Salta (Argentina). In each setting, the context and manner of display, impliCitly or explicitly, imbue the human remains with meaning. The study explores encounters between the researcher and museum staff, between the researcher and museum visitors, and most significantly, between visitors and displayed human remains. Accessing the visitor encounter in ways that capture the power of such displays has been relatively unexplored by researchers and is demanding methodologically. To this end, the research borrows from psychoanalytic theory, adapting the concept of 'free talking' (and 'free writing') in order to elicit visceral responses to displayed human remains, and considering the concept of 'the uncanny' to understand them. This approach has profound implications: acknowledging museums and curators as contextualised and contextualising agents, and recognising visitors (and researchers) as both feeling and sense-making subjects, renders both the researcher and the traditionally impersonal institution visible. But more than this, it makes the visitor truly present.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available