Book presentation: More than just an object. A material analysis of the return and retention of Namibian skulls from Germany

This book was published in the African Studies Collection, volume 70, in February 2018. It will be launched now, with presentations by Dr. Fenneke Sysling and author Leonor Faber-Jonker herself. Introduction by ASCL Director Prof. Jan-Bart Gewald.
Read the book

Book coverIn September 2011, twenty Namibian skulls were repatriated from the collection of the Charité university hospital in Berlin. The remains had been in Germany for more than a century: they belonged to victims of the 'German-Herero war' (1904–1908) in German South-West Africa, a genocide that cost the lives of eighty per cent of the Herero and half the Nama population. The majority of the skulls had arrived in Berlin as preserved heads, and all had been used for scientific race research in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Despite the triumphant return of the skulls, not everything went smoothly. The Charité was criticized for failing to answer questions about the identity of the remains, and the Namibian government and Nama and Herero representatives failed to agree on their final resting place. This had everything to do with the complicated nature of the skulls involved. Faber-Jonker analyses how these human remains – remains of individuals – became war trophies, anthropological specimens, and, finally, evidence, symbols, and relics, by examining how, by whom, why, and in what context the skulls were physically handled in the practices of collecting (1904–1910), studying (1910–1924), and repatriating (2011).


Fenneke SyslingDr. Fenneke Sysling is a postdoctoral researcher at the History Department of University of  Utrecht. She is specialized in the history of science, race and colonialism, and wrote her PhD thesis about the history of racial science in the Dutch East Indies. Her current project continues with her fascination for the history of science, the body and quantification and is a history of self-tracking from the 19th century onward.

Leonor Faber-JonkerLeonor Faber-Jonker is a historian, author, and artist. In 2015, she graduated with honours from the research master Modern History at the University of Utrecht. She was the scientific curator of an acclaimed exhibition on the Herero and Nama genocide at the Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris (25 November 2016–12 March 2017). Her photo series 'Afrikanerland' was exhibited at the African Studies Centre in 2016.

Date, time and location

30 November 2018
15.00 - 16.30
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 5A29 (5th floor)