Panel 1. Residuals and Remains

Residuals and Remains

Discussant: Prof. Maria Starzmann

9:10-10:40 am

Can We Be Ruins?

Sarah Borgel, Université de Montréal

Keywords: Forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, mass graves, New York African Burial Ground Project and history

BN14-2What do we call “ruins”? According to the dictionary definition, ruins are “the remains of an architecture, a progressive destruction of a structure”. We all know of the Colosseum in Roma or of the Pyramids in Egypt, but what do you know of ruins less exposed? What about the “Human” as a ruin?

Forensic anthropology has been sometimes set apart from Anthropology  yet many researchers consider the human body as a “vestige of social identity and cultural belonging.” This is leading us to our problematic; can we consider burials and human remains as ruins paving our past? If it is the case, how could they affect our future? What is the relationship between the Living and the Dead?

This presentation will focus on the bioanthropological, and bioarchaeological, perspective, addressing the delicate subject of burials and human remains. Although most of us are proud of the great buildings vestiges of our past and often moved by their sight, it is quite complicated and discomforting to consider the archaeological body as such.

In the present work, we will try to include the human remains as witnesses from the past in the debate. We will first distinguish the different actors contributing to a burial, from the tomb to funerary relics passing by the cemetery structure itself. Finally, we will concentrate more on the human remains and what we can learn from them, with two concrete cases: The cemetery, still excavated, in Place du Canada (Montréal), and the New York African Burial Ground.

After Post-Katrina: Living with Ruins in New Orleans

Sean Mallin, University of California, Irvine

Keywords: property, ruins, temporality, disaster recovery, New Orleans

Mallin_pictureIn this paper, I explore what it means to live with ruins in post-Katrina New Orleans. Many people who returned to the city after Hurricane Katrina now find themselves surrounded by half-finished homes, overgrown lots, and properties that haven’t been touched in years. At the center of their experience is fundamental uncertainty about who is coming home, how long rebuilding should take, and what should be done with properties that are leftover. New Orleanians grapple with these questions by reading changes in the landscapes as signs of recovery or ruination. Vacant properties reflect hopes and desires—as well as fears and anxieties—as residents attempt to decipher their surroundings amidst the specter of abandonment. I show how “movement” has became a measure of future potential at the neighborhood level as residents look for progress in the condition of nearby properties, seeing change—or lack of change—as a reflection of their neighbors’ “intentions” to rebuild or not. A property’s imagined trajectory highlights its potential through a particular way of reading its condition and, through its condition, the intentions of its owner. I examine how recent urban renewal efforts shift the temporal orientation of disaster recovery and reveal some of the paradoxes of property in contexts of abandonment.

Goosebumps and Colonial Corrosions: Living with the ‘Undead’ Marquesan Past

Emily Donaldson, McGill University

Keywords: heritage, power, affect, Oceania, colonialism

Ann Laura Stoler’s fruitful discussion of ruins and the lingering “toxic corrosions and violent accruals” (2013:2) of empire describes the post-colonial present as a haunted, post-industrial wasteland of decomposing lives and landscapes.  In their dark and vivid depth, her depictions evoke the undead as ruins become a decaying but active agent of the past, functioning in the present.  The lush, bright and tropical Marquesas Islands might seem somehow immune to this effect, but upon closer scrutiny they reveal their own strain of colonial ruination.  Like zombies, Marquesan ruins are both alive and dead.  They spark fear among islanders, and sometimes they inflict physical harm on people.  Yet one key, uncanny distinction separates these “undead” Marquesan sites from Stoler’s corrosive debris of ruination: they are indigenous.  The ruins that haunt Marquesans are not the remnants of a colonial past, but the former homes and ceremonial structures of their ancestors.  The stories and silences surrounding these places, as much as their weathered, mossy stones, describe an entangled colonial and indigenous past that continues to live and act upon today’s Marquesan minds and bodies.  This paper explores the “connective tissue” (Stoler 2013:7) that binds islanders’ futures to their local environment and their past.  In particular, the true horror of the “undead” ruins of the Marquesas originates in an empire whose most insidious and pervasive traces manifest in what is missing, rather than found.  Haunting memories, dark connotations and mystery work actively upon islanders’ imaginations, giving body and life to ongoing colonial processes of ruination.  What role will these embodied ruins play, as islanders move to build a future on the foundations of their material heritage.

Unsettled Ground: The Ruins of Closed Residential Schools and Persistent Colonial Attitudes

Katherine Morton, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Keywords: Aboriginal residential schools- imperial debris- colonialism- deteriorating spaces- memory

st-michael-s-indian-residential-schoolThe physical spaces of closed and now deteriorating Aboriginal residential schools in Canada carry enormous discursive and cultural weight.  Decades after their closure, the ruins of residential schools are physical reminders of the colonial damage done through the residential schools program and other destructive assimilation efforts in Canada.  As modern ruins and decaying buildings, the remaining structures and spaces continue to shape how Aboriginal identity is shaped and constructed in the contemporary setting- particularly how the state responds to and frames the victimization of Aboriginal peoples.  The trauma of the residential schools program in Canada has deep and long-lasting implications for all contemporary Aboriginal-state relations.  Even though these schools were closed and sometimes repurposed, the remaining structures and physical spaces endure as highly visible confirmations of the colonial abuses committed against Aboriginal people in Canada.  This research examines the meaning making role that the locations and physical spaces of residential schools play in contemporary Aboriginal identity construction and Aboriginal-state negotiations.  Building on postcolonial theory, such as Ann Laura Stoler’s conceptualization of “imperial debris” and “rot” (2013) this paper argues that the closing of Aboriginal schools did little to extinguish the sites as locations for prejudicial construction of Aboriginal identity according to lingering colonial attitudes and assumptions.  These sites and how they have remained as ruins of their previous colonial purpose raise an important question of how deteriorating spaces factor into the meaning/ memory making practices in shaping contemporary Aboriginal identity in Canada.

About Panel Discussant Prof. Maria Starzmann

starzmann_photoMaria Theresia Starzmann is Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at McGill University. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Binghamton University. Having previously worked as an archaeologist in the Middle East, her current research focuses on the material culture of confinement in North America. In this work she traces the longue durée of practices of confinement and removal as well as their effects on cultural landscapes through long-standing processes of dispossession and settlement, growth and investment, and, more recently, divestment and ruination.

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