Treatment of human remains explored at conference

Treatment of human remains explored at conference

The treatment of human remains and the legacy of empire have been among a range of issues discussed at a conference finishing today in Aberdeen.

The Contentious Museums conference took place at the University of Aberdeen from November 20-21, drawing together a variety of people with professional, academic and community interests in museums.

It represented the sixth staging of the University Museums in Scotland conference. Previous gatherings have focussed on issues such as the history of collecting, cultural entitlement and museums, and the significance of collections.

This year delegates have explored the contemporary social role of museums.

"Museums have become increasingly contentious places, engaging with debates on issues such as repatriation, genocide, slavery, censorship, power and the treatment of human remains," explained conference organiser Neil Curtis, Senior Curator at the University of Aberdeen's Marischal Museum. 

"As a result, the importance and vitality of museums depends on the ways they can engage with the contentious issues of today."

The conference opened on Thursday by looking at a topic that has become very important in museums – how to respectfully display human remains.

The legacy of empire and slavery was also explored, particularly the ways in which museums marked the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

Today (Friday, November 21) further sessions will discuss how museums and other communities can negotiate with each other, and will take an overview of the role of museums in society.

Mr Curtis added: "We will be considering how the often conflicting demands of different interests affect museum practice, as well as debating whether museums should aim to be contentious and what the impacts are of doing so."

Selected papers from the conference will be published in a special issue of Museum Management and Curatorship, edited by Robert Janes and published by Taylor and Francis.

The conference is being held at the University of Aberdeen's MacRobert Building from November 20-21.

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