ABSTRACT The nineteenth century was fascinated with the display of human remains in museums. The most celebrated of such exhibits was the Egyptian mummy, which served as the subject of a range of sensorial investigations. Museum mummies were gawked at and sometimes handled by museum goers. Outside of the museum, mummy unwrappings were popular public spectacles. Travelers to Egypt often brought back a mummy hand or foot as an essential tourist souvenir. Scientists, for their part endeavored to categorize mummies by their varying colors, textures, and aromas. These multisensory responses to the mummy were complemented by fictional accounts in which revivified mummies were depicted as exerting their own tactile power over their modern handlers. Such practices and stories point to a desire to physically connect with a bygone world in a modern age—a desire often accompanied by a fear of such contact with the past proving overwhelming. The fact that mummies might be regarded as trophies of conquest by imperialist Europeans suggests that the concern with touching and being touched by the mummy also represented a Western ambivalence towards colonial subjects.
The Senses and Society