In recent years, the practice of heritage repatriation—returning cultural property to its place or culture of origin—has gained steam. “Body Politics: Heritage Repatriation for the Postcolonial Future” investigates a collection of skulls from Rwanda currently held in Berlin, using the collection’s potential repatriation to interrogate the shifting international dynamics between colonizer and formerly colonized. The project investigates repatriation as a tool for postcolonial, developing, and disempowered nations to make—hopefully—brighter futures, as well as reshaping the future of international relationships through heritage mediation. Going beyond debates about ethical responsibilities and ownership of cultural property, this study asks: How can heritage repatriation help to shape postcolonial international relationships through changing the international balance of power and making decolonized futures for postcolonial nations?
A Country Without Culture is Destroyed
My PhD dissertation, "A Country without Culture is Destroyed: Making Rwanda and Rwandans through Heritage", examines how the Rwandan state uses heritage as a post-genocide rebuilding mechanism for the nation, especially to prevent the recurrence of violence, while simultaneously deploying heritage to change the country's place in international post-colonial and post-conflict power dynamics. The dissertation traces the operation of a set of key ideas - value, dignity, unity, and development - in the state heritage sector (including both cultural heritage and the heritage of genocide) and in the state's larger rebuilding project, which involves both domestic and foreign policy and international relations. This work draws on my training as an archaeologist and as an anthropologist, and is based on site-specific, materially-focused research, archival work, and ethnography that "studies up" at elites and state-level actors. It is also motivated by my interest in international relations and state-level dynamics, politics, development and policy.
Publications resulting from this research include: “Imagining Genocide Heritage: Material Modes of Development and Preservation in Rwanda”, forthcoming in Journal of Material Culture; "Dignity in Death and Life: Negotiating Agaciro for the Nation in Preservation Practice at Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Rwanda" in Anthropological Quarterly, 2019; "A Ghost Map of Kigali", Anthropology and Humanism, 2019; and “Temporal Palimpsests and Authenticity in Rwandan Heritage”, published in 2018 in Palimpsests: Buildings, Sites, Time (eds. Nadja Aksamija, Clark Maines, and Phillip Wagoner).
My dissertation research, which involved both ethnographic and historical methods, was undertaken in affiliation with the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda and the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide. I work in English, French, and (with a research assistant) Kinyarwanda.
Other Work on Rwanda
I have studied Rwanda since 2011, when I wrote a master's thesis at the University of York called "A Difficult Proof: Material Heritage, Tourism, and Morality at Rwanda's Genocide Memorials", based on a digital ethnography of tourist accounts. A version of this work was published in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology as "On the Side of Light: Performing Morality at Rwanda's Genocide Memorials". My in-country fieldwork began in 2013 and continues to the present.
I have published, presented, and organized panels on topics such as the manifestations of dignity in preservation work at a Rwandan genocide memorial; authenticity and temporality in Rwandan museum heritage; conflicts between Rwandan and American conceptions of propriety at memorials; the uses of Rwandan heritage for tourism and development; and others.
At the Social Science Research Council, I am a research associate in the program on Understanding Violent Conflict, especially focusing on the Democratic Republic of Congo and Great Lakes Africa. I participate in projects on topics including, but not limited to: field research in insecure places; rural radicalism in the 21st century; and graffiti as material culture in DRC.
I maintain an active interest in heritage ethics and politics, and established a new pedagogy training workshop for graduate students at the Stanford Archaeology Center. At Stanford, I was a member of the Stanford Heritage Ethics working group, and have organized panels at major annual meetings on the topics of how to practice engaged, ethical archaeology in the shadow of contemporary politics and on the uses of material heritage in making national futures. I work as a freelance academic editor for faculty and graduate students, especially those who speak English as a second language.