Are the things really burnt?

Olívia Maria Gomes da Cunha


By looking at the vestiges of the scientific archive destroyed by the fire that reduced Brazil’s National Museum to ruins in September 2018, this essay seeks to explore what Isabelle Stengers () described as “another look” at artifacts and the histories of science and their archives. By avoiding the “traps” of separating the scientific evidence contained in these archives from the uses they might have “outside,” I localize minor inscriptions about other people and things in the institution’s day-to-day life. I accompany the first National Museum’s official reports, a history produced within the archives, and seek to track inscriptions about nineteenth-century scientific practice otherwise neglected or rendered invisible: the presence of enslaved Africans. I speculate on what might be an alternative, decolonial, critical, and creative way of talking about the archive of science when this presence is taken into account.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713900