Ethics of Collecting, Ethics of Use

How the privacy, exploitation and the ethics of collecting documents and artifacts affect the ways people think about preserving and using those sources today.
Portrait photo of Geronimo in European style clothing, holding a bow and arrow, 1904.

Ambushing Geronimo

An introduction to salvage anthropology.
An anthropologist stole his song after he refused to sing for her. Modern scholar weighs cultural preservation against exploitation.
a picture depicting the FBI agent entering Miller's house

How the FBI Discovered a Real-Life Indiana Jones in, of All Places, Rural Indiana

A 90-year-old amateur archaeologist who claimed to have detonated the first atomic bomb was one of the most prolific grave robbers in modern American history.
A man who considered himself an amateur anthropologist was really a grave robber who broke laws in many nations to dig illegally and smuggle artifacts. The FBI considers how to deal with confiscation, preservation, and repatriation.
Collage: a pair of arms wraps around collections of newspapers reporting on AIDS and plays guitar strings.

An AIDS Activist's Archive

June Holmes was in her late twenties, working as a social worker on Long Island, when she first heard about “this thing called AIDS.”
Because AIDS was stigmatized, obituaries often did not list cause of death, but a social worker collected obituaries of her clients. How can a scholar use them as a rare window into the diversity of the AIDS experience without violating people's privacy?
Illustration of 1844 Philadelphia riots

When Philadelphia Became a Battlefield, Its Surgeons Bore Witness

The surgeons’ observations survive thanks to a remarkable document: an eleven-page published report presented to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Surgeons eager to test new battlefield medicine on victims of anti-Catholic mob violence in the 1840s violated the privacy of their patience when they published their results. Should this affect how historians use these sources today?

Who Owns the Evidence of Slavery’s Violence?

A lawsuit against Harvard University demands the return of an ancestor’s stolen image.
Enslaved people were photographed naked, without their consent, in the name of science. The photos have been preserved in a museum and used in scholarly and public work in the name of history. How can we study and raise awareness of unethical behavior in the past without continuing it ourselves?
Illustration of an archaeologist digging through artifacts.

The Bodies in the Cave

Native people have lived in the Big Bend region of west Texas for thousands of years. Who should claim their remains?
Landowners, amateur archaeology enthusiasts and collectors, professional archaeology scholars, museum curators, and descendants all feel responsible for the stewardship of local land, artifacts, and human remains -- and all feel conflicted about the best way for them to carry out their responsibility.
A researcher holds a magnifying glass to an archival photograph.

Looking for a Lineage in the Lusk Archive

The records of a New York surveillance committee from the time of the First Red Scare document a radical world—and its demise.
Documents gathered in the course of the New York state government's anti-communist surveillance provide a window into immigrant and working-class stories that otherwise might have been lost.
Visitors sit before the Benin plaques exhibit (known as the Benin Bronzes) at the British Museum in London.

Museum Reparations

Should museums only exhibit work of their own culture, or should they bring the world to visitors?
After decades of advocacy for nonwestern cultures to be represented in fine art museums, a new focus on the means by which such artifacts were acquired has raised concern about who should own them and who should display them.
Content of Frank B's suitcase. A luggage tag, a black and white photograph of a young man in military uniform, a notebook with Frank's name written, a guide to Brooklyn, a copy of the Gospel of John, and an address book.

Tales From an Attic

Suitcases once belonging to residents of a New York State mental hospital tell the stories of long-forgotten lives.
The New York State archives is preserving the belongings of residents who died at a state mental hospital. Would showing them in public museum exhibits or giving access to family members of the deceased violate patients' privacy and perpetuate the social stigma of institutionalization, or invite empathy and show respect for their lives and personalities as individuals?