Steering Committee on Human Remains in University Museum Collections

Our University is home to vast museum collections comprising some 30 million artifacts, objects, and specimens. Among these are the remains of more than 22,000 individuals, most held by either the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology or the Warren Anatomical Museum. In 2020, the Peabody undertook a review of its collections that revealed the remains of fifteen individuals of African descent who were or were likely to have been alive during the period of American enslavement.

In a January 2021 message to the community, President Bacow shared this information and apologized for Harvard’s role in collection practices that “placed the academic enterprise above respect for the dead and human decency.” He also appointed a University-wide Steering Committee on human remains in the University’s museum collections.

The Steering Committee

The Steering Committee on Human Remains in University Museum Collections was chaired by Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences with the T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Committee’s charge was as follows:

  • Undertake archival research on the remains of the fifteen individuals identified in the Peabody review and consider options for the return of these remains, as well as their burial or reburial, commemoration, and memorialization. These efforts will serve as a pilot to inform the remainder of the charge, namely:
    • The creation of a comprehensive survey of human remains present across all University museum collections, as well as their use in current teaching and research.
    • The development of a University-wide policy on the collection, display, and ethical stewardship of human remains in the University’s museum collections.
    • The proposal of principles and practices that address research, community consultation, memorialization, possible repatriation, burial or reburial, and other care considerations.

The Report of the Steering Committee on Human Remains in University Museum Collections

On Thursday, September 15, 2022, the Report of the Steering Committee on Human Remains in University Museum Collections, including recommendations, was released. In his message to the Harvard community, President Bacow accepted the recommendations from the Committee and wrote that the report "offers a clear roadmap for our community as we seek to fulfill our obligations to those individuals whose remains are held by the University—including nineteen people of African descent who were or were likely to have been enslaved."

Committee Membership

Drawing on the Steering Committee’s recommendations, the University appointed the following committees: 

 

Human Remains in the Harvard Museum Collections Research Review Committee members:

Human Remains in the Harvard Museum Collections Returns Committee members:

  • Allan Brandt (chair), Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine in the Department of Social Medicine (HMS), Professor of the History of Science (FAS)
  • Arthur Applbaum Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values, HKS; Director, Edmond & Lily Safra Undergraduate Fellowship Program
  • Melissa Wood Bartholomew, Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (HDS)
  • Terence D. Capellini, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology (FAS)
  • Mark Cicchetti, Managing Director, Anatomical Gifts Program, HMS
  • I. Glenn Cohen, James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law, Deputy Dean, Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, HLS
  • Joseph Gone, Professor of Anthropology and of Global Health and Social Medicine; Faculty Director, Harvard University Native American Program
  • Evelynn Hammonds (After 08/2023), Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science, Professor of African and African American Studies, FAS & Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, T. Chan School of Public Health
  • Anne Harrington, Interim Dean of Undergraduate Education, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science
  • David Jones, A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine
  • Kelli Mosteller, Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program
  • Matthew Potts, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, Faculty of Divinity
  • Brenda Tindal, Executive Director, Harvard Museums of Science and Culture
  • Robert Truog, Director, Harvard Center for Bioethics, Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Legal Medicine (HMS)

Ex officio members:

  • Ex Officio Dominic Hall, Curator, Warren Anatomical Museum
  • Ex Officio Michele Morgan, Curator of Osteology, Peabody Museum
  • Ex Officio Jane Pickering, William & Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum
  • Ex Officio Scott Podolsky Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine and Director, Center for the History of Medicine, Countway Medical Library