History | June 5, 2022 6:14 pm

Draft Report Reveals Unsettling Information About Human Remains at Harvard

It's not yet clear what will be in the final version

Harvard Yard
A new report revealed unsettling things about Harvard's collections.
Sdkb, CC BY-SA 4.0

When you think of Harvard University, what comes to mind? Its New England location, perhaps, or its long history and record of academic excellence — any of which would be a logical place to go. Unfortunately, there’s also a more unsettling aspect of Harvard’s work over the years that a draft report has brought to light.

According to an article in Harvard newspaper The Harvard Crimson, the university “holds the human remains of at least 19 individuals who were likely enslaved and almost 7,000 Native Americans.”

The draft report comes from what the article describes as “a committee charged with studying how Harvard should treat human remains in its museum collections,” and its recommendations are, thankfully, focused on returning the remains to the appropriate parties. In the case of Native American remains, this has been required under federal law since 1990.

Amazingly, Harvard has significantly more remains in its collection than just these; the Harvard Crimson article cites a total figure of over 22,000.

As Hyperallergic notes in their own article on the findings, the introduction to the draft report refers to the remains covered within as “a striking representation of structural and institutional racism and its long half-life.” And while it’s not yet clear what the final version of the report will look like, this initial report is an alarming look at an especially unsettling aspect of an institution’s history.