Date of Award

August 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Dr. Laura Villamil

Committee Members

Dr. Bill Wood, Dawn Scher Thomae


Dark Tourism, Human Remains, Mummies, Museums, Plastinates, Visitor Perceptions


Viewing preserved human remains in museums can evoke visceral reactions of curiosity, awe, and repulsion. The popularity of sites and attractions where "the real dead are recreated, packaged up, and sold as an exhibitory experience" (Stone 2011:12) not only alludes to a contemporary fascination with death and dying but also to the economic benefit that institutions derive from providing such experiences. This study focuses on the institutional discourse and the public perception of two distinct exhibitions of relatively modern preserved human remains, the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato in Mexico and the Body Worlds & the Cycle of Life traveling exhibition hosted by the Milwaukee Public Museum in the United States. Using data collected from the perspective of the institutions that curate and exhibit these unique collections as well as the responses of 400 visitors who experienced them, this study examines how preserved human remains are contextually objectified as biological specimens and/or cultural objects and how they are understood and accepted by the public when placed within scientific narratives and by their designation as cultural heritage.