Penn Museum to Remove Skull Collection of Enslaved People

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Hakim Bishara (Hyperallergic) reports that the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania announced that it will remove parts of its Morton Cranial Collection, which includes skulls of enslaved individuals from Havana, Cuba (53 from this region), as well as other enslaved Africans and Native Americans. Bishara says that “Activists and UPenn students have released a series of additional demands regarding the abolition of the Morton Cranial Collection.”

The Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) announced that it will remove from view parts of its Morton Cranial Collection, which includes skulls of enslaved people. The museum is also considering the repatriation or reburial of the crania, which were unethically acquired. The decision marks a victory for UPenn students and local activists, who have formed the coalition Police Free Penn (PFP) to demand school-wide reforms and the collection’s removal and repatriation, but fails to address their full list of concerns and demands.

The objectionable collection belongs to Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century Philadelphia-born, UPenn-educated physician who collected hundreds of skulls, including those of enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and Cubans to try to reinforce his white supremacist, pseudoscientific theory that the brains of some races are larger than others.

A portion of the collection, which includes about 1,000 crania, is currently on view in glass display cases at a classroom within the museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM).

Last year, a group of UPenn students who formed the Penn & Slavery Project presented a study that found that the Morton Collection includes 53 crania of enslaved individuals from Havana, Cuba and crania of two individuals enslaved in the United States. The study included information on other cases in which the university’s medical school has historically stolen body parts from enslaved people without consent after their death.

The students also researched UPenn’s ties to enslavers and found that 75 of the university’s former trustees owned humans, including its first provost, William Smith.

The Penn Museum has not responded to Hyperallergic’s repeated requests for comment.

For original post, see https://hyperallergic.com/577941/penn-museum-to-remove-skull-collection-of-enslaved-people/

Also see https://www.penn.museum/sites/morton/craniology.php and https://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/50-3/renschler.pdf

[Photo from https://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/50-3/renschler.pdf.]

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