Events | IMA Event

Webinar: Reconsidering museum practices as death and commemoration rites.

22 February | 12:00 - 13:00

Irish Museums Association (IMA)

Event Address

Online via Zoom

The Curated Ossilegium: Reconsidering museum practices as death and commemoration rites.

In this illustrated talk Evi Numen, Curator of the Old Anatomy Museum of Trinity College Dublin, will examine the parallels between cultural and religious death rites and museum practices as they pertain to human remains in collections.


The dead never rest in peace, and some lead quite active afterlives. Human remains in museums fall in the liminal category of inhabiting what is their final resting milieu in a secular, visible, and visitable context. They, more so than others, live on. They are remembered, talked about, and talked to; most often not by bereaved family, but by their caretakers. The displayed dead are continuously mourned and commemorated through narratives shared in the form of museum tours and curatorial text. They reside, however, in a frequently questioned terrain. Why are they not buried? Why are they ‘on display’? Why are they excluded from the assumed universal funeral and burial rites? And what of their caretakers? How do they cope with the perceived grim nature of their jobs?

In this talk, Evi Numen attempts to answer some of these questions and offer new ones for consideration, drawing parallels between the institutional death rites performed in the terrain of museums and through museum work and the cultural death rites that both venerate and confront the dead body in its physicality and inherent emotional gravity. A marriage of these institutional and cultural rites is proposed as a framework for the creation of an engaged process that treats human remains in museums with dignity and respect.