“The Souls of Departed Utensils”: Death and Indigenous Material Culture in Eighteenth Century Britain, our second seminar and Q&A for 2021, presented by Robbie Richardson, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Princeton University, is now available to view on our Youtube channel. Many thanks to our presenter, and audience who joined us on the Zoom platform from around the globe. Please subscribe to our mailing list for notification of forthcoming seminars.
Link to Recording: CEMS ANU Youtube
Abstract: The European and North American collection of the bones of Indigenous peoples from the Americas and Oceania was largely a nineteenth-century phenomenon, whose painful legacy is still being negotiated today. This paper will consider the precedents to this practice and the ideologies that drove it, in the form of British understandings of Indigenous funerary practices and attitudes to death, the collecting of body parts and the deaths and burials of Indigenous visitors to Europe, and the rise of the belief in biological race. Shakespeare writes in The Tempest about those who, “[w]hen they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.” How can we understand this impulse, and the future that followed it? This paper will also attend to Indigenous beliefs about the personhood of objects themselves, and their treatment as ancestors and holders of precious knowledge.
About our speaker: Robbie Richardson is Assistant Professor of English at Princeton University. He is the author of The Savage and Modern Self: North American Indians in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture (University of Toronto Press 2018) and is currently working on a book project that looks at the history of Indigenous objects from the Americas and the South Pacific in Europe up to 1800, and how these materials and the epistemologies they represented informed primarily British understandings of their own past and present. He is a member of Pabineau Mi’kmaw First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada.
About the image: Townshend monument, a funerary monument in Westminster Abbey from 1761.