In July of 1962 a group of scientists arrived in the A’uwẽ (Xavante) aldeia of Wedezé to conduct exhaustive documentation of the Indigenous people who lived there. Among the data they created for their study in human genetics was a set of anthropometric photographs—arresting images of faces, posed at five different angles by a physical anthropologist. Over the ensuing decades, the images traveled from Brazil to Germany to the United States, accruing new scientific and social meanings as they were passed from one research group to another. As researchers used these images to correlate data and enable their repeated study of the community and their descendants, their A’uwẽ hosts developed strategies—including affective labor—to shape scientists’ work for their own political purposes. Facilitating the return of the digitized images between 2015 and 2019, Rosanna Dent participated in this circulation and the beginning of an A’uwẽ project to reclaim these scientific materials. This talk traces the history of this research by posing the question of return: What does A’uwẽ repossession of these images teach us about how to manage and care for the products of mid-century race science? In their transit and use, the photographs tie together generations of researchers and the people they studied. They also mark the persistence and mutation of race and population science into the twenty-first century.
Rosanna Dent, Assistant Professor of History at the New Jersey Institute of Technology
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