Despite its long history, plague has not been an internationally significant disease since the mid-twentieth century, and it has attracted minimal modern critical attention. Strategies for treating plague are generally outdated and of limited effectiveness. However, plague remains endemic to a few developing nations, most prominently Madagascar. The outbreak of a major plague epidemic across several Madagascan urban areas in 2017 has sparked a wider discourse about the necessity of improving global preparedness for a potential future plague pandemic. Beyond updating treatment modalities, a key aspect of improving preparedness for such a pandemic involves a process of sophisticated review of historical public health responses to plague epidemics. As part of this process, this article outlines and compares public health responses to three separate epidemics from the early modern era onwards: Marseille in 1720–22, San Francisco in 1900–04 and Madagascar in 2017. Based on this process, it identifies three key themes common to successful responses: (1) clear, effective and minimally bureaucratic public health protocols; (2) an emphasis on combating plague denialism by gaining the trust and cooperation of the affected population; and (3) the long-term suppression of plague through the minimisation of contact between humans and infected small mammals.
This roundtable was convened on 5 July 2022 and built on five years of collaborative work in Cambodia and ongoing collaborations within the Centre de Reflexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH) at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) between Bertrand Taithe, Mickaël le Paih and Fabrice Weissman. The central question raised in this discussion relates to two profoundly intermeshed issues for humanitarian practitioners and organisations: the use of history for humanitarian organisations, and the need for them to preserve and maintain archives.
This article explores some of the challenges, learnings, reflections and opportunities involved in collaborating with grassroots artist collectives in conflict-affected places in academic settings. Using as a case study the collaborative production of the animated short film ‘Colombia’s Broken Peace’, as part of a wider international research project, I reflect on our experiences in co-producing this piece by drawing out lessons that might be relevant for others interested in undertaking similar inter-disciplinary work. In doing so, I aim to re-frame notions of ‘impact’ and ‘capacity building’ in conflict research to a more complex picture of mutual learning and knowledge exchange.
International humanitarian actors, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies, often focus on gender norm change when conducting gender analysis among refugees and internally displaced persons. Dominant humanitarian narratives about gender in research reports, assessments and technical guidance reveal an underlying belief that displacement is causative – an external, intervening force. In such analysis, colonial and neoliberal ideologies may influence how refugees’ lives are represented, resulting in depictions of lack of modernity, tradition and culture as overarching (yet ill-defined) forces, and women and girls as vulnerable by default. Such analysis is frequently ahistorical, presented without analysis of the pre-displacement situation. This paper explores and challenges humanitarian narratives about gender norm change during displacement. It is based on feminist ethnographic research in Jordan with Syrian women and men as well as interviews with humanitarian workers. The paper demonstrates that assumptions about lack of empowerment of Syrian women and men may be misguided, identifying both subtle and more overt forms of Syrian women’s and men’s resistance’ to expected norms. It urges humanitarian actors to use ‘resistance’ as an alternative to analysing ‘change’, recognise heterogeneity within populations, resist ‘rapid’ data collection, challenge paternalistic and colonial stereotypes, and reflect complexity in analysis.
There are many factors at work in the iconography of human remains. Some of those frequently discussed are aesthetic criteria, iconographic traditions and specific contingencies, whether political (for example in war paintings), symbolic (essential for transi images) or cultural. There is, however, one factor that is rarely mentioned, despite its centrality: the regime of value associated with corpses. Christ’s body is not painted in the same way as that of a departed relative or that used in a human dissection. Artists choose a suitable iconography depending on how the remains are perceived. This criterion became absolutely crucial in contexts such as nineteenth-century France, when attitudes to corpses underwent major changes.
This edited transcript of conversations between an Apache cultural heritage professional, Vernelda Grant, and researcher Bridget Conley explores the knowledge that should guide the repatriation of human remains in the colonial context of repatriating Apache sacred, cultural and patrimonial items – including human remains – from museum collections in the United States. Grant provides a historical overview of the how Apache elders first grappled with this problem, following the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) in the US Congress. She explains how and why community leaders made decisions about what items they would prioritise for repatriation. Central to her discussion is an Apache knowledge ecology grounded in recognition that the meaning of discrete items cannot be divorced from the larger religious and cultural context from which they come.
Both historical and contemporary records of mass contagion provide occasions for visibility to persons who otherwise remain little recognised and even less studied: those who bury the dead. While global reports attest to self-advocacy among cemetery workers in the current COVID-19 pandemic, the psychological complexities of their labour go virtually unseen. Findings on the experiences of those doing such work reveal a striking contrast. While societal disavowal often renders their task as abject and forgettable, those who inter the remains frequently report affective connections to the dead that powerfully, and poignantly, undermine this erasure. Acknowledging such empathic relationality allows us to look at this profession in areas where it has never been considered, such as psychoanalytic work on ‘mentalisation’ or in contemporary ethics. The article concludes with an example from the accounts of those who have buried the dead in the massed graves on New York’s Hart Island.
This article focuses on ongoing contestations around burned human remains originating from the Holocaust, their changing meanings and dynamics, and their presence/absence in Holocaust-related debates, museums and memorial sites. It argues that ashes challenge but also expand the notion of what constitutes human remains, rendering them irreducible to merely bones and fleshed bodies, and proposes that incinerated remains need to be seen not as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of the dead but as a different one, equally important to engage with – analytically, ethically and politically. Challenging the perception of ashes as unable to carry traces of the personhood of the of the dead, and as not capable of yielding evidence, I posit that, regardless of their fragile corporality, incinerated human remains should be considered abjectual and evidential, as testifying to the violence from which they originated and to which they were subjected. Moreover, in this article I consider incinerated human remains through the prism of the notion of vulnerability, meant to convey their susceptibility to violence – violence through misuse, destruction, objectification, instrumentalisation and/or museum display. I argue that the consequences of the constantly negotiated status of ashes as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of human remains include their very presence in museum exhibitions – where they, as human remains, do not necessarily belong.
This article describes some of the techniques museums use to represent the suffering body in exhibitions. Some display human remains, but much more common, especially in Western museums, are stand-ins for the body. Manikins take many forms, including the wax museum’s hyperrealistic representations, the history museum’s neutral grey figures and the expressionistic figures that represent enslaved people in many recent exhibits. Symbolic objects or artefacts from the lives of victims can serve as counterweights to telling the story of their deaths. Photographs can show horror and the machinery of death, focus attention on individual lives or recreate communities. The absence of the body can call attention to its suffering. All of these techniques can be useful for museums trying to display and teach traumatic histories, but must be used with care and caution.