Smithsonian's collection of human brains was "gathered without consent"

The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History has a collection of 255 human brains. Unfortunately, most of them were gathered without permission from the families (or the brains' owners for that matter).

"The vast majority of the remains appear to have been gathered without consent from the individuals or their families, by researchers preying on people who were hospitalized, poor, or lacked immediate relatives to identify or bury them," reports the Washington Post. "In other cases, collectors, anthropologists and scientists dug up burial grounds and looted graves."

From ARTNews:

Ales Hrdlicka, in 1903 the first curator of physical anthropology of the U.S. National Museum, now the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, is at the center of the yearlong investigation analyzing the human remains still in the museum's possession. Hrdlicka, a longtime member of the American Eugenics Society, collected body parts, including brains, to promote and develop now debunked theories about anatomical differences between races.

As a result, most of the 255 brains held in the museum's collection were removed upon death from people of color, including 57 from Black people who died in the United States, many obtained through unethical practices. There were also brains from 23 Filipinos and 49 poor Germans "whose bodies were unclaimed between 1908 and 1912."[…]

In April, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III issued a statement announcing the creation of a task force to address the disposition of the human remains held by the institution as well as apologizing for past unethical practices.

"I know that so much of this has been based on racist attitudes, that these brains were really people of color to demonstrate the superiority of White brains, so I understand that is just really unconscionable," Bunch told the Washington Post. "And I think it's important for me as a historian to say that all the remains, all the brains, need to be returned if possible, [and] treated in the best possible way."

(via The Signal from David Katznelson)