Do. Feb 25th, 2021

Tagung: Biohistorical Anthropology: DNA and Bones in Cultures of Remembrance (Zürich, 8.-9.10.2010)

The conference addresses the ‘genomic revolution’ in anthropology and history, and the new meanings human remains have acquired in diverse cultures of remembrance. The scientific projects concerned with the reconstruction of kinship and history on the basis of genetic technologies and DNA-sequences affect human populations globally. While such research may mean disempowerment of research subjects, genetic knowledge about group history and identity has also become part of political movements for recognition. Some groups even actively search the service of population genetics – a service that has on the individual level been commercialized in genetic ancestry tracing companies.

Like DNA, bones serve as ‘carriers of history’ in locally and historically specific cultures of remembrance. Human bones may be interpreted as the remains of national and/or ethnic founders and ancestors. Beginning in the 1980s, ‘on the eve of globalization’, the so-called reburial issue was in full swing and concerned officials in museums and other institutions in the US, Australia, and beyond. Neo-indigenous organizations, first-nation movements, and subaltern or marginalized groups around the globe are reclaiming ancestral bones to found a historical narrative and to claim rights of belonging. This brings to the fore the fact that the meaning of bones – as well as of DNA – is polyvalent in both western and non-western cultures; they are “things” with “social lives”.

Different disciplinary approaches and historical and geographical foci are brought together with the aim to gain insights into the complexities through which ‘DNA’ and bones become carriers of historical memory.



Friday, October 8: DNA and Cultures of Remembrance

10.00 – 11.00 Marianne Sommer and Gesine Krüger (Professors, Dept. of History, University of Zurich): Introduction

11.00 – 12.00 Yulia Egorova (Lecturer, Dept. of Anthropology, Durham University): On DNA, Authenticity and Historical Memory

12.00 – 13.30 Lunch break

13.30 – 14.30 Alondra Nelson (Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Columbia University): Ground Work: Foundations of African Ancestry and the Social Life of DNA

14.30 – 15.30 Gísli Pálsson (Professor and Chair of the Dept. of Anthropology, University of Iceland): Make no Bones about it: Human Variation in Iceland, Scandinavia, and the Arctic

15.30 – 16.00 Coffee break

16.00 – 17.00 David Hesse (PhD student, Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies, University of Edinburgh): To join a Clan: Expressing Scottish Ancestry and Affinity


Saturday, October 9: Bones, Bodies, and Cultures of Remembrance

10.00 – 11.00 Joost Fontein (Lecturer, Dept. of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh): Between Tortured Bodies and Resurfacing Bones: The Politics of the Dead in Zimbabwe

11.00 – 12.00 Ciraj Rassool (Associate Professor, Dept. of History, University of the Western Cape): Bone Memory: Human Remains, Heritage and Transitional Justice in South Africa

12.00 – 13.30 Lunch break

13.30 – 14.30 Oliver Hochadel (Centre d’Estudis d’Història de la Ciència, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Visiting Scholar, University of Zurich): The Making of a Magic Mountain: The Fossils of Atapuerca and the New Beginning of Spanish History

14.30 – 15.30 General Discussion


Sandra Nicolodi
Forschungsstelle für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (fsw), Universität Zürich, Rämistr. 64, CH-8001 Zürich

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