Collecting and interpreting human skulls and hair in late Nineteenth Century London : passing fables & comparative readings at The Wildgoose Memorial Library : an artist’s response to the DCMS Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums (2005)

Wildgoose, Jane (2015) Collecting and interpreting human skulls and hair in late Nineteenth Century London : passing fables & comparative readings at The Wildgoose Memorial Library : an artist’s response to the DCMS Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums (2005). (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .

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Abstract

This practice-based doctoral research project is an artist’s response to the ‘unique status’ ascribed to human remains in the DCMS Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums (2005): as objects, in scientific, medical/anthropological contexts, or subjects, which may be understood in associative, symbolic and/or emotional ways. It is concerned with the circumstances in which human remains were collected and interpreted in the past, and with the legacies of historical practice regarding their presence in museum collections today. Overall, it aims to contribute to public engagement concerning these issues. Taking the form of a Comparative Study the project focuses on the late nineteenth century, when human skulls were collected in great numbers for comparative anatomical and anthropological research, while in wider society the fashion for incorporating human hair into mourning artefacts became ubiquitous following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. William Henry Flower’s craniological work at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, where he amassed a vast collection of human skulls that he interpreted according to theories of racial “type” (in which hair was identified as an important distinguishing characteristic), is investigated, and its legacy reviewed. His scientific objectification of human remains is presented for comparison, in parallel, with the emotional and associative significance popularly attributed to mourning hairwork, evidenced in accompanying documentation, contemporary diaries, literature, and hairworkers’ manuals. Combining inter-related historical, archival- and object-based research with subjective and intuitive elements in my practice, a synthesis of the artistic and academic is developed in the production of a new “archive” of The Wildgoose Memorial Library - my collection of found and made objects, photographs, documents and books that takes a central place in my practice. Victorian hairworking skills are researched, and a new piece of commemorative hairwork devised and made as the focus for a site-specific presentation of this archive at the Crypt Gallery St. Pancras, in which a new approach to public engagement is implemented and tested, concerning the legacy and special status of human remains in museum collections today.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Physical Location: This item is held in stock at Kingston University library.
Research Area: Art and design
History of art, architecture and design
Library and information management
Faculty, School or Research Centre: Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (until 2017) > School of Art & Design History
Depositing User: Katrina Clifford
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2016 08:40
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2018 10:16
URI: http://eprints.kingston.ac.uk/id/eprint/32683

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