Corpses Of Mass Violence and Genocide

In Europe, and all over the world, mass violence and genocides have been a structural feature of the 20th century. Our research programme, Corpses of Mass Violence and Genocide, was aiming at questioning the social legacy of mass violence by studying how different societies have coped with the first consequence of mass destruction: the mass production of cadavers. What status and what value have indeed been given to corpses? What symbolic, social, religious, economic or political uses have been made of dead bodies in occupied Europe, the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, Spain but also Rwanda, Argentina or Cambodia, both during and after the massacres? Bringing together perspectives of social anthropology, law and history, and raising the three main issues of destruction, research and identification, and return of human remains to society, this research programme directed by anthropologist Elisabeth Anstett (PI) and historian Jean-Marc Dreyfus, has enlighten how various social and cultural treatments of dead bodies simultaneously challenge common representations, legal practices and morality. Programme outputs have therefore open and strengthen the field of genocide studies by providing proper intellectual and theoretical tools for a better understanding of mass violence’s aftermaths in today societies. This research programme, which started in February 2012 and ended in january 2016, has been entirely financed through a grant from the European Research Council.

New: Human Remains in Society (Dreyfus & Anstett)

Human remains in society. Curation and exhibition in the aftermath of genocide and mass-violence

Edited by Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Élisabeth Anstett


Whether reburied, concealed, stored, abandoned or publicly displayed, human remains raise a vast number of questions regarding social, legal and ethical uses by communities, public institutions and civil society organisations. This book presents a ground-breaking account of the treatment and commemoration of dead bodies resulting from incidents of genocide and mass violence. Through a range of international case studies across multiple continents, it explores the effect of dead bodies or body parts on various political, cultural and religious practices. Multidisciplinary in scope, it will appeal to readers interested in this crucial phase of post-conflict reconciliation, including students and researchers of history, anthropology, sociology, archaeology, law, politics and modern warfare.


  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0738-1
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: November 2016
  • BIC Category: Anthropology, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Genocide & War Crimes, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General, Archaeology, Humanities / Genocide & ethnic cleansing, Humanities / Archaeology, Society & social sciences / Anthropology
  • Series: Human Remains and Violence

Human Remains and Violence – Issue 1:2

HRVThis second issue of the journal – special guest edited by Sévane Garibian (University of Geneva) – explores the ways in which human remains are commemorated across a diverse range of political, social and historical contexts. In line with the journal’s interdisciplinary scope, each article provides a unique account of the practices generated by different events from around the globe. Examining the legacy of genocidal violence, Rémi Korman (EHESS-Paris) explores the significance and role of bones in the commemoration of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, while Jean-Marc Dreyfus (University of Manchester) investigates the transfer of victims’ ashes following the Holocaust. Anouche Kunth (CNRS, France) and Helen Jarvis (Permanent People’s Trubunal) focus on the Armenian and Cambodian genocides, respectively, the former presenting the effects of images on the remembrance and absence of bodies, and the latter depicting the use of artefacts and photographs in private and public ceremonies. Turning to the consequences of political violence, Zahira Araguete-Toribio (Goldsmiths University London) addresses the reburial of victims from the Civil War in contemporary Spain.

The editors are now accepting submissions for Autumn 2016. The journal welcomes original research articles on studies of any geographical region and historical period and from academic disciplines including History, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Archaeology, Law, Criminology, Forensic Science, Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Pathology, Philosophy, Cultural Studies and Political Science. All articles will be double-blind peer-reviewed. Online submissions are made via the Human Remains and Violence ScholarOne website:

For more information, please visit the journal’s webpage.

A doctoral and a post-doctoral position at the University of Geneva

collaborateursFor information : two positions (doctoral + postdoctoral) at the University of Geneva.

In the frame of her Swiss National Science Foundation Professorship (2016-2020), legal scholar Sévane Garibian is seeking doctoral and post-doctoral candidates for her research team in Transitional Justice hosted by the University of Geneva.

The Research Project is entitled “Droit à la vérité et vérité du droit. Impunité des crimes de masse et justice transitionnelle » (duration : 4 years).

For complete information, please click on the links below.

Thank you for circulating among potentially interested students/scholars.

New publication – Human remains and identification

couverture jauneHuman remains and identification, from editors Elisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus, presents a pioneering investigation into the practices and methodologies used in the search for and exhumation of dead bodies resulting from mass violence. Previously absent from forensic debate, social scientists and historians here confront historical and contemporary exhumations with the application of social context to create an innovative and interdisciplinary dialogue.

The book argues that the emergence of new technologies to facilitate the identification of dead bodies has led to a ‘forensic turn’, normalising exhumations as a method of dealing with human remains en masse. However, are these exhumations always made for legitimate reasons? And what can we learn about societies from the way in which they deal with this consequence of mass violence?

Multidisciplinary in scope, this book presents a ground-breaking selection of international case studies, including the identification of corpses by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the resurfacing of human remains from the Gulag and the sites of Jewish massacres from the Holocaust.

Human remains and identification is available now. To purchase, please visit the Manchester University Press website.

Workshop – The forensic turn in Holocaust Studies?

Einladung-Forsenic-TurnThe Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies has organised a two-day event in Vienna on the 25-26 June. “The Forensic Turn in Holocaust Studies?: (Re-)Thinking the Past Through Materiality” will examine how sites of the former concentration and extermination camps, as well as the mass graves at the ‘killing sites’, have become the objects of archaeological research contributing to the development of ‘Holocaust archaeology’ as a new subdiscipline.

Centred on material traces of genocidal violence, such as spatial structures, physical remnants, mass graves and human remains, the ‘forensic turn‘ could be seen as a response to the gradual passing away of Holocaust victims. At the same time, it reflects broader changes in practical and conceptual approaches to legacies of (genocidal) violence across cultures and geographies brought about by the urge for historiographical, historical, ancestral and personal clarifications, quests for justice or processes of reconciliation in its aftermath.

While acknowledging its unquestionable importance for fostering historical research on post-Holocaust landscapes, this workshop seeks to investigate the theoretical, methodological, political and practical implications of the ‘forensic turn’ for their investigation, memorialisation and experience.

For more information, and to view the complete programme, please see here.

New publication – ‘Killing Sites’

Killing sitesRemembrance of the Holocaust often focuses on those who have suffered and perished in concentration camps, ghettos or on death marches. But the killing sites, places where mass shootings took place, are still relatively unknown. Popular and official political commemorations, as well as much scholarly research, have tended to focus on the extermination camps, the gas chambers and the ghettos. The victims of these mass murders were predominantly Jewish and often lived nearby. Communities that existed and thrived for centuries perished in a few hours, hastily buried in unmarked graves and pits.

IHRA’s conference “Killing Sites – Research and Remembrance”, hosted by the Pedagogical University of Krakow, took place from 22 – 23 January 2014. The full report can be read here, naming global and regional actors in the field, summarising past endeavours, and analysing recent approaches to provide an overview of the subject. The conference was attended by a variety of experts in the field and focused on fieldwork as well as exploring regional perspectives, databases, education and commemoration.

For more information please see here.

Conference – Cuerpo, ciencia, memoria y política en las exhumaciones contemporáneas

Madrid conferenceLa conferencia final del proyecto I+D+i El pasado bajo tierra quiere detenerse ante estos múltiples regímenes de evidencia y considerar las formas en las que el cuerpo exhumado produce significados – tanto científicos como políticos, sociales y culturales – en el contexto de las exhumaciones de fosas comunes. En la última década, la práctica de exhumar se ha vuelto cada vez más importante para hacer frente a los pasados violentos. Con ello, el cuerpo exhumado ha transformado no solamente las prácticas y los valores forenses y judiciales, sino también las elaboraciones políticas, sociales y culturales de dicho pasado. En esta conferencia planteamos el diálogo entre diferentes prácticas, metodologías y preocupaciones teóricas que orientan los discursos actuales de memoria y derechos humanos desde la perspectiva del cuerpo exhumado, tomado como objeto material y discursivo. A través de un debate interdisciplinar y fomentando un diálogo entre estudios de caso comparativos, buscamos el acercamiento al cuerpo exhumado desde una perspectiva transnacional y comparada, como un objeto de análisis que puede ayudar a iluminar las complejidades de construir sentido y reivindicaciones en el espacio público a partir de las evidencias físicas.

¿De qué manera se relaciona el cuerpo exhumado como objeto de tratamiento técnico, memoria cultural y también como sujeto performativo con el mapa transnacional emergente de memorias y pasados violentos?

El congreso tendrá lugar en castellano e inglés, que tendrá lugar en el CCHS-CSIC los días 2 y 3 de julio de 2015. Habrá traducción simultánea disponible. Entrada libre con inscripción. Para registrarse, enviar e-mail a antes del 29 de junio, incluyendo NOMBRE, APELLIDOS y DNI o NIE. En caso de necesitar certificado de asistencia, por favor indicadlo en la inscripción.

Event: Forensic Science and Human Rights

displaymediaSince the late 1980s, forensic science has played an increasingly important role in how societies and states address human rights violations. From the pioneering work of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense), established to investigate the cases of disappeared people under the military government in power from 1976 to 1983, to the efforts to identify the missing from the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and in countries such as Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Cyprus, and Iraq, forensic science has become a means of intervening into post-conflict societies. Its expertise is now routinely sought to help compile medico-legal facts, evidence for use in judicial proceedings, as well as to recover and identify the remains of persons missing as a result of armed conflict and, in many cases, state-sponsored violence.

Recovering and identifying missing persons, however, is more than scientific intervention. It is a profoundly social process, often driven by those most intimately connected to the violence and its victims–that is, the families of the missing themselves. Exhuming bodies and returning them to grieving families and communities are also inherently political acts. Drawing on a range of both practical and theoretical expertise, this panel examines the work of forensic science in post-conflict societies, focusing on examples in Latin America and the former Yugoslavia, as well as a new initiative within the American Academy of Forensic Science.

Body as Witness: Forensic Science and Human Rights was held at George Washington University on 6 May 2015 and included panellists Luis Fondebrider, Adam Rosenblatt, Doug Ubelaker and Sarah Wagner.

Call for papers: Corpses, Burials and Infection conference: 4th – 5th December 2015 at CRASSH, University of Cambridge

It has become a truism to state that in times of epidemic infection, the bodies of the dead become morally, ontologically, and infrastructurally problematic. Nowhere has this been better demonstrated than in the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, when burials and the handling of corpses became arenas of contestation through which both local and scientific ‘cultures’ were placed on trial.

This conference will expand the discursive space that such narratives have created, by asking; how can we problematise the perception and treatment of corpses in situations of infectious disease outbreaks? How can we denaturalise burial as an obvious space of political and ethical contestation? What kinds of pollution narrative are specific to epidemic situations, and how have these historically interacted with arguments over contagion and infection? Moreover, how does the handling of the polluted corpse come to impact upon descriptions of the healthy body? Indeed, what is the place of the healthy body in a political economy geared toward answering the question of how to dispose of the corpse?

Papers are invited from across the medical humanities (anthropology, medical history, sociology, geography, etc.) as well as from public health perspectives. Abstracts of no more than 200 words are to be sent to Nicholas Evans (ne228 [at] by the 1st July.

For more information please visit the website here.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal – Issue 1

HRVThe ‘Corpses of Mass Violence and Genocide’ programme is pleased to announce issue 1 of the new academic journal Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal with Manchester University Press.

This first issue – in line with the journal’s interdisciplinary scope – regroups articles from a variety of authors working in a diverse range of disciplines. Each article addresses issues concerning the identification of,  and /or political roles ascribed to, human remains generated by different events around the globe. Investigating the production of cadavers en masse following environmental  disasters, Claudia Merli and Trudi Buck focus on identification and identity politics in 2004 post-tsunami Thailand. Turning to the consequences of mass violence on the fate of human remains, Therkel Straede and Louise Zamparutti each explore the Second World War period, the former in Belarus and the latter in Italy, while Patricio Galella examines Francoist Spain. Turning to a more contemporary case, Admir Jugo and Senem Škulj investigate forensic work conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Online submissions can now be made via the Human Remains and Violence ScholarOne website: