Penn Museum to remove Morton Cranial Collection from public view after
student opposition
By Komal Patel <> 07/12/20 10:07pm
[image: penn-museum] <> The
Penn Museum released a statement explaining that the Museum is working to
change the racist narratives it was built on. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn Museum will remove the Morton Cranial Collection
<>, a collection of about
1,000 crania with some belonging to enslaved individuals, from public view
after students called for the crania to be repatriated.

The collection is the work of Samuel George Morton, an 1820 Perelman School
of Medicine graduate who used the skulls of enslaved people to argue
<> that there
are inherent differences between the brains of people of different races.

Morton, who is from Philadelphia, was an active participant
the medical and scientific community in the early 19th century.

During the Penn & Slavery Project’s 2019 symposium
students presented findings that the Morton Cranial Collection includes 53
crania belonging to enslaved individuals from Havana, Cuba and two
crania belonging
to enslaved Americans. A portion of the collection is currently in public
view in a Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials classroom in
the Museum.

The collection on display in the CAAM classroom will be removed from public
view by the end of the summer, but will still be accessible for
research, Williams
Director of the Penn Museum Julian Siggers wrote in an email sent to The
Daily Pennsylvanian on Wednesday.

Morton used the findings from his cranial collection as a ‘scientific’
justification for slavery and is known as the “founding father of
scientific racism,” according to Discover Magazine
His research, as described on Penn Museum's website
<>, was “taken as proof that
Europeans, especially those of German and English ancestry, were
intellectually, morally, and physically superior to all other races.”

Morton's personal views were largely white supremacist, according to the
Museum site, and his work contributed to the development of racist thought
through his suggestion of “innate hierarchies among different races.”

Biases within the Morton collection have been criticized for years
including in a June guest column
in the DP by rising College sophomore Gabriela Alvarado.

Alvarado said the statement the Museum recently released in solidarity with
the Black Lives Matter movement is ironic as it still has the Morton
Cranial Collection on display to the public.

The statement reads that the Museum is working to change the racist
narratives it was built on.

"Racism has no place in our Museum," the statement reads. Recognizing it
was built on colonialism and racist narratives, the Museum wrote it is
working to change these narratives and its associated institutional biases.

“I think it's really clear that they're not being sincere,” Alvarado said.
“They are fully aware that they have [The Morton Collection], and they’re
fully aware that people aren’t okay with it but they keep it anyway.”

In their guest column, Alvarado argued the Museum should repatriate the
crania in addition to moving them out of their current public display.

Through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the
Penn Museum repatriated various Native American crania
from the collection. NAGPRA, however, only protects the remains and certain
cultural objects of federally recognized tribes, native Alaskan
corporations, and native Hawaiian organizations. This leaves many crania in
the collection unprotected, allowing the Museum to continue to keep and
display the Morton Cranial Collection.

“We’re committed to exploring what we should do with repatriation of the
crania of the enslaved individuals within this collection,” Siggers wrote
to the DP. He added that the repatriation process it is complicated because
there is little information about the individuals other than that Morton
acquired them from Cuba.

School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. second-year VanJessica Gladney, who
studies history and is a Penn & Slavery Project fellow, said that while she
understands that repatriation of the crania may be difficult, she is
excited to see the Museum take action.

“I’m glad they’re committed,” Gladney said. “So are we. I’m excited to
start working together.”

Alvarado said removing the crania from public view is a “good first step,”
adding that the Museum must do more than consider repatriation. “It’s going
to be tough, but that makes it all the more important, and I’m sure there
are many people who want to help with repatriation,” Alvarado said.

Police Free Penn
a newly formed assembly calling on Penn to abolish policing and transform
community safety at the University, has also called for the abolition of
the Morton Cranial Collection. School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. third-year
Jake Nussbaum, who studies anthropology and is a member of PFP, said
entirely abolishing Morton's collection is complicated.

“When we say abolish we are talking about finding ways to return all of
those remains or either give them proper burials or return them to
descendent communities, and that's going to vary a lot from the different
communities that are within the collection,” he said.

Nussbaum said Penn Museum's plan to remove the collection from display is
great, but said any repatriation process should include students and
represent the interests of BIPOC communities.

School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. fifth-year, Paul Mitchell, who is also
studying anthropology, said that despite the removal of the collection from
display, the injustice surrounding Morton's collection should not be
forgotten. Facing the injustices embodied in the collection requires a
commitment to restorative methodologies which address the impact of the
scientific racism Morton helped construct, he said.

“Just as these remains were transformed into objects through their
collection, they must now be uncollected, [and] recognized as persons,”
Mitchell said. “Approaching this ethical challenge is as complex as it is

On July 2, Penn announced
<> that
it will remove the century-old statue of George Whitefield, a former slave
owner, from the Quad, and stated it will create a Campus Iconography Group
to research and advise the University about memorialization on Penn's

Gladney said that the Morton Cranial Collection should be included in this
University-led research endeavor.

“It's important to note that many of these remains are traced back to
people in descendant communities who would not want their kin on a shelf in
the museum,” Mitchell said. “And the Museum needs to acknowledge that if
it’s going to make statements about solidarity.”