By Johanna Parker

Anyone working in collecting institutions that contain human remains are likely to have encountered the debates around repatriation.  I have worked in the area for many years as both a government employee and as part of my studies and I am often asked who are the key writers in the area if you want to understand the importance of repatriation for Indigenous communities. The list is very long so I have compiled a few key writers as a great place for people to start:

  • Associate Professor Cressida Fforde and Dr Gareth Knapman, Australian National University, Australia
  • Professor Paul Turnbull, University of Tasmania, Australia
  • Associate Professor Michael Pickering, National Museum of Australia
  • Professor Paul Tapsell, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker, University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Dr Amber Aranui, Te Papa Museum, New Zealand
  • Dr C. Timothy McKeown, United States
  • Dr Larissa Förster, Humboldt University, Germany

Also a soon to be released publication that will be a key future text:

  • Fforde, C., Mckeown, C. T., Keeler, H. (eds) ‘The Routledge Companion to Indigenous Repatriation: Return, Reconcile, Renew’, London: Routledge.

On a personal plug I have a chapter in this text called Navigating the Nineteenth Century Collecting Network, The case of Joseph Barnard Davis. I spoke about Davis at the BSHS Postgraduate Conference in Manchester in 2018 and this talk was the foundation for this chapter. There was a lot of interest in Davis and I wanted to set the record straight about this obsessive collector of human skulls as there are a lot articles out there filled with holes.

As well as academic resources if you are new to government policy in the repatriation area an useful place to start is in Australia.  Here is the link to the Australian Government’s policy: https://www.arts.gov.au/what-we-do/cultural-heritage/indigenous-repatriation. You can also find media releases about recent returns at this link if you want to learn about actual repatriations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Australia.

If you can take the time to read about what repatriations mean to individuals and communities I guarantee the complex area will become a lot clearer – at the purest level, you are talking about respecting another person’s culture.

Drawing of a human skull, facing forwards, “Crania Britannica : delineations and descriptions of the skulls of the aboriginal and early inhabitants of the British Islands with notices of their other remains”, by Joseph Barnard Davis and John Thurnam. Image shows the drawing of a skull, facing forwards. Plate 46, Volume II

Credit: Wellcome Collection