Science and Technology

Making kinship with human remains: Repatriation, biomedicine and the many relations of Charles Byrne

This paper explores the ways in which genealogical, ancestral and wider forms of relatedness are produced through human remains. It does so through focusing on the case of the controversial display of the remains of Charles Byrne (1761–83), commonly known as ‘The Irish Giant’ in the Hunterian Museum in London. These remains have been mobilised in the making of ideas of national, regional and local belonging for the remains themselves and differently imagined geographies of relatedness and collective identity. They have also been subject to biomedical research that has involved producing ideas of genetic relatedness that have been used in debates over the most appropriate place for the remains. The making of kinship to and through human remains can involve a range of social actors and institutions with distinct and overlapping interests and intentions, personal, collective, clinical, historical, scientific, the entanglement of discourses of memory, local history, biomedicine and genomics, and national, regional, local and also diasporic geographies of collective identity and experience. Ideas of kinship and shared ancestry continue to be potent models of relatedness and belonging at different scales.

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Volume 36 Issue 5

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