Sarah E. Wagner

Person image.

Sarah E. Wagner

Professor of Anthropology


Professor Wagner is a social anthropologist whose research explores loss through the lens of war, memory, prolonged mourning, and uncertain death. Studying forensic responses to missing persons, she has conducted ethnographic and archival research in Bosnia and Herzegovina and with the US military, including in Vietnam, in its attempts to account for the Missing In Action (MIA) from the past century's conflicts. Since 2020, she has focused on COVID-19 death and remembrance.

Awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, 2017
Awarded a National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar Fellowship, 2017

War and memory; post-conflict repair; forensic science and missing persons; anthropology of death and mourning, including COVID-19 loss and remembrance.

Regional foci: United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Her current research and writing contribute to several ongoing projects:

  • A comparative study of recovery and identification efforts for war dead from World War II, the Korean War, and the American War/Vietnam War (project based at NIOD/University of Amsterdam).
  • Co-editing the Cambridge Handbook of the Anthropology of Death (with Ruth Toulson, Maryland Institute College of Art).
  • National Science Foundation-funded study of COVID death and remembrance, "Memorialization, Contested Knowledge and Incomplete Mourning in the Context of COVID-19,” with a team of GW Anthropology students and faculty.
  • Digital archival research with the COVID-19 public art installation, In America: Remember (created by visual artist Suzanne Firstenberg).

Anth 1002: Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology
Anth 2008: Foundations of Anthropology
Anth 2502: Anthropology of Science and Technology
Anth 3531: Methods in Sociocultural Anthropology
Anth 6391: Topics: War and Memory
Anth 6531: Methods in Sociocultural Anthropology

Forthcoming Books and Articles

Toulson, R. and S. Wagner. Cambridge Handbook of the Anthropology of Death (Cambridge University Press).

Wagner, S. “Unearthing Unknowns: The Policy, Practice, and Performance of Disinterring Korean War Fallen,” Social Anthropology.

Lopez-Cerquera, M.A., S. Richardson, and S. Wagner. “Technoscientific Truth-making: Forensic Science and Inventions of Repair,” in J. Meierenrich, A. Hinton, and L. Douglas, eds., The Oxford Handbook on Transitional Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


**2019  Wagner, S. What Remains: Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

*2014 Nettlefield, L.J., and S. Wagner. Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide. New York: Cambridge University Press. Bosnian edition [2015], Srebrenica nakon genocida, trans. S. Kreso. Institute for History, University of Sarajevo.

2008  Wagner, S. To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

2022   Nuhanović, H. and S. Wagner. “Peace after Genocide: Exhumations, Expectations, and Peacebuilding Efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” in I.M. Scott, S. Byrne, and T. Matyok, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Peacebuilding and Ethnic Conflict. New York: Routledge.

2020   Mundorff, A. and S. Wagner.Immediacy and Authority: Identification Efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the World Trade Center Compared,” in H. Erlich, E. Stover, and T. White, eds., Silent Witness: Applying Forensic DNA Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Humanitarian Disasters. New York: Oxford University Press, 311–328.

2020   Steadman, D. and S. Wagner.Taking Stock: DNA Testing and Its Complex Truths,” in H. Erlich, E. Stover, and T. White, eds., Silent Witness: Applying Forensic DNA Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Humanitarian Disasters. New York: Oxford University Press, 268–287.

2019  Wagner, S. Conclusion” (to special issue on commingled remains), Forensic Anthropology 2(2): 139–142.

2018  Wagner, S. and  T. Matyok, “Monumental Change: The Shifting Politics of Obligation at the Tomb of the Unknowns", History & Memory 30(1): 40-75.

2017  Jugo, A. and S. Wagner, “Memory Politics and Forensic Practice: Exhuming Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Missing Persons,” in Zuzanna Dziuban, ed., Mapping the ‘Forensic Turn’: Engagements with Materialities of Death in Holocaust Studies and Beyond. Vienna: New Academic Press, 121-139.

2017    Rosenblatt, A. and S. Wagner. “Known Unknowns: DNA Identifications, the Nation-state, and the Iconic Dead, in Chris Stojanowski and William Duncan, eds., Studies in Forensic Biohistory: Anthropological Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

2016    Wagner, S. and Kešetovic, R. “Absent bodies, absent knowledge: The forensic work of identifying Srebrenica’s missing and the social experiences of families,” in Derek Congram, ed., Missing Persons: Multidisciplinary Perspectives and Methods on Finding the Disappeared. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press.

2015  Wagner, S. "The quandaries of partial and commingled remains: Srebrenica’s missing and Korean War casualties compared." In Francisco Ferrándiz and Antonius Robben, eds., Necropolitics: Mass Graves and Exhumations in the Age of Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

2015  Daynes, S. and S. Wagner. "Usages contemporains de Marcel Mauss dans les sciences sociales aux Etats-Unis (A propos du don et du commerce de sang, d’organes, et de cellules)." In E. Dianteill, ed., Marcel Mauss: en théorie et en pratique, 271-292. Paris: Archives Karéline.

2015  Wagner, S. “A curious trade: The recovery and repatriation of Vietnam MIAs," Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(1): 161-190.

2015  Jessee, E., and S. Wagner. "Among the Anonymous Dead: Exhumations and the 'Emotive Materiality' of Deceased Victims of Mass Violence," Emergent Conversations: Part I Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR).

2014  Wagner, S. "The social complexities of commingled remains.” In B. Adams and J. Byrd, eds., Commingled Human Remains: Methods in Recovery, Analysis and Identification. New York: Academic Press.

2013  Wagner, S.The making and unmaking of an Unknown Soldier,” Social Studies of Science 43(5): 631-656.

2010  Wagner, S. “Identifying Srebrenica’s missing: The ‘shaky balance’ of universalism and particularism.” In A. Hinton, ed., Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

2010  Wagner, S. “Tabulating loss, entombing memory: The Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre.” In E. Anderson, A. Maddrell, K. McLoughlin, and A. Vincent, eds., Memory, Mourning, Landscape. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

2010  Wagner, S. "Response to “Deleuze and an Anthropology of Becoming,” by João Biehl and Peter Locke, Current Anthropology 51(3): 344-45.

2009  Wagner, S., and C. Quintyn. "Dismantling a national icon: Genetic testing and the Tomb of the Unknowns," Anthropology News 50(5), May.


** Winner of the 2020 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing.

* Honorable Mention for the International Studies Association’s Ethnicity, Migration and Nationalism (ENMISA) Distinguished Book Award (2015); and shortlisted for the 2015 Rothschild Prize of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN).

Ph.D. 2006, Harvard University
M.A.L.D. 2002, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
B.A. 1994, Dartmouth College