Repatriation of human remains: a twist


As a child I was fascinated with all the gory details of the Red Barn Murder. Corder's remains as detailed in the article and the gibbet in which his body was 'displayed' were always prominently displayed at Moyses Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds. Haven't been for a while - and certainly not since their refit, but I wonder how, now recent investigations have cast doubt on the safety of Corder's conviction, these artefacts are interpreted. When all's said and done it's pretty grisly stuff. And I can't see what purpose is served by having these sorts of objects on display in this day and age (or any human remains for that matter).

Incidentally, Corder's skeleton was used at a teaching hospital until the mid-twentieth century (I think).


Ceri said…
I am not sure of the use of human remains in museums from a practitioner point of view but from a public point of view I have to confess that I love grisly objects like bits of scalp and ear. Well maybe not but I am always fascinated by seeing mummies and people who have been preserved in the bog and even skeletons. Maybe because I am of the opinion that a body is not sacred once a person dies so I have no qualms about them being on display, it is an object like anything else. Maybe it was the catholic churches I visited in Belgium as a child where there were always bits of saints bodies on display which made me immune ot them. However there is a pretty nasty subtext as to why some bodies are on display and others are not - usually 'exotics' (mummies) ancient (mummies again and preserved bog bodies) or freaks or those seen as 'abnormal', and that includes murderers who have committed inhuman acts and therefore perhaps do not deserve being treated decently as other human beings.
Amy said…
Thanks Ceri - I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one! Analysing remains, the way they were interred, the objects found with them - yes. But, I just don't see what can be gained from displaying human remains - does it really improve knowledge? I've written about this here before ( and agree that I think how you feel about this subject has a lot to do with the importance one personally ascribes to the body after death. I also agree that the issue highlights that perennial issue of the representation of the Other in museums. Ancient Britons, murderers, 'freaks' of nature and Egyptian mummies are united in that they are Other. Plus, I feel that it's the spectacle of viewing remains which is behind their inclusion in museum displays. We apparently have a morbid fascination in what happens to the body after death - perhaps it's because death is usually hidden (at least in Western society)? Anyway, as ever, there are no right or wrong answers. Has anyone else got any thoughts on this issue?

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