The Cobb Collection

The W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory (CRL) at Howard University is a rare resource for research, housing unique human skeletal and bioarchaeological collections. One of these. The Cobb Collection (CC), is named after the first African American to earn a Ph.D in anthropology and renowned Chair of Howard University’s Anatomy Department, Dr. William Montague Cobb. His research aimed to create a less racialized perspective on human life and to show the impact race could have on the heath of a person.3Cobb’s objective with this collection was to showcase the physical impact that racism in America had on the livelihood of AAs. Additionally, Cobb wanted to give scientific evidence to the skeptic audience of the era that AAs are not physically or mentally inferior as a result of their race.

The CC originally comprised of 987 de-fleshed human cadavers that were either purchased or donated in collection between 1931 and 1965. Originating from hospitals in Washington D.C., the CC individuals were assigned a CC number after their autopsy, conducted by the hospital staff or Dr. Cobb himself. While the individual data points vary per individual, the CRL houses original autopsy reports, death certificates, and other personal information collected from the patients. Over its existence, the CC has moved across different departments at Howard University, including the Department of Anatomy, Department of Anthropology, and School of Medicine, before now residing with the independent research department of the CRL. Coupled with collaborations where skeletal materials were allowed to leave the university, the CRL does not possess all 987 full skeletons of the CC.

Read More about our approach to research on the Cobb Collection