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Yann Le Gall

Doctoral Fellow


Campus Neues Palais
building 2, room 1.15

University of Potsdam
Am Neuen Palais 10
14469 Potsdam

Dissertation Project

Remembering the Dismembered: African Human Remains and Memory Cultures after Repatriation

The recent restitutions of human remains have contributed to a re-acknowledgement of the colonial objectification of Indigenous people by museum and scientific discourses. During and after repatriation processes, histories of racial objectification, colonial oppression and anti-colonial resistance are dug up and narrated in the public sphere. Texts and events, such as official repatriation claims and cosmopolitan handover ceremonies, are opportunities for local communities and national actors to perform collective identity and, at the same time, to challenge Western narratives of history. Museums and other Western institutions have in turn had to rethink long-established notions of the human body, question the universality of science, and address their colonial legacies. In communities of origin, remembrance processes have taken different forms: ceremonies of national importance, local reburials, and the emergence of spaces of epistemic contact which combine local traditions of keeping remains in secluded repositories with purposes of public awareness and education. Nevertheless, the political nature of some repatriation claims and the political consequences of a return of ancestors home have not yet been scrutinised. In spite of productive responses fostering multidirectional and shared memory, the return of remains to some African states has unveiled diplomatic intricacies and struggles, not only over the custody of remains but also with regard to shaping a memory of colonialism. By examining textual and cultural material pertaining to the issue of repatriation, this thesis wishes to assess the achievements of postcolonial memory practices in this context.


I graduated from the University of Potsdam in 2016 in Anglophone Modernities in Literature and Culture.

My internship at the organisation Berlin Postkolonial e.V. in 2014 stimulated my interest in the repatriation of human remains and sacred objects, as well as in the broad acknowledgement of colonial history in Germany's cultural and public spaces. Following up on that commitment, I am now a member of the Postcolonial Potsdamteam.


(2016) "The Return of Human Remains to the Pacific: Resurgence of Ancestors and Emergence of Postcolonial Memory Practices.” Postcolonial Justice: Reassessing the Fair Go, edited by Gigi Adair and Anja Schwarz. Trier: WVT, 45-60.

Review of Haut, Haar und Knochen: Koloniale Spuren in naturkundlichen Sammlungen der Universität Jena, by Larissa Förster and Holger Stoecker. HSozKult, 4 Nov. 2016.

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