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Special Collections

Dr. William M. Bass Collection

Dr. William Bass

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University of Tennessee Professor Emeritus William M. Bass is widely regarded as a foremost expert in the field of forensic anthropology, which uses physical anthropology to resolve medical and criminal cases concerning the dead. Bass’s pioneering research on human decomposition launched a revolution in forensic science. Bass is the creator of the “Body Farm” (officially named the Anthropology Research Facility), the world’s first laboratory for decomposition research. On a two-acre compound in Knoxville, donated human remains are left to decay in various natural and controlled environments, allowing researchers to study the processes and timetable of decomposition. Bass came to UT’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1971 to head the anthropology program. He established the Anthropological Research Facility in 1981 and went on to make it the centerpiece of a comprehensive Forensic Anthropology Center.

Bass donated his collection of research and teaching material to the University Libraries in 2011 to be preserved and made available for study. The Dr. William M. Bass III Collection documents his entire career, spanning more than fifty years, as a professor and researcher. The collection includes Bass’s class notes and lectures, personal and professional correspondence, field study research notes, publications, and teaching and departmental material. Research materials include original field study notebooks from expeditions in the Central and Northern Plains, describing excavated artifacts and skeletal remains that were identified, cataloged, and housed in the teaching collection within the Forensic Anthropology Center. The University Libraries has digitized these field notes and is making them available online so students and researchers worldwide can view the primary source documentation from Bass’s fieldwork.

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