Humboldt: The Brachiosaurus brancai in the Natural History Museum Berlin

This contribution deals with the area of natural history, a field which to date has remained outside the focus of the research and debates surrounding looted art and the theft of cultural assets and has scarcely featured as a topic in the history of remembrance. The focus here is on a scientific object, the skeleton […]

Warum Ethnologie?: An anthropology that takes position instead of pictures

Short abstract We argue that the current resistances to neoliberalism remind us to depart from stagnant forms of social analysis. We show the relevance of (post-) marxisms put forth by Lacan, Žižek and Deleuze and Guattari to understand social transformation in a world shaped by neoliberal oppression. Our science has an emancipatory kernel or at […]

Humboldt: BENIN BRONZES

In 1897 a great tragedy befell the kingdom of Benin when a British punitive expedition looted the treasury of treasures in the royal palace and plundered artefacts including those of great spirituality to the Bini people. Benin kingdom is now part of Nigeria and since Independence in 1960 Nigeria and also the Benin Royal Court […]

Humboldt: Overcoming Distances and Boundaries

The recent debates around the Humboldt Forum in Berlin have drawn attention to various challenges related to the many ethnographic collections in German museums and other institutions (e.g. archives, universities). The existence of the ethnographic collections, their contents and histories crystallise new questions about Europe’s present and past position in the world. How were these […]

Humboldt: “Bringing home our Gods”

“I belong to my People” Support @IndiaPrideProj Recent years have witnessed overall debates about the legitimacy and the future of the museum, especially of the ethnographic museum. An important reason for this is the question of provenance. How did the objects we encounter when visiting a museum get there and what does that mean? These […]

Warum Ethnologie?: Beyond the ethnos and anthropos

Foreword Dear Readers, you are going to absorb the written version of my talk presented at the ‘Ethno’symposium 2018 in Hamburg (Germany). My motives to apply for this talk were twofold. On the one hand, I was curious about the presentation format – I have never held a 45 minutes long presentation before. On the […]

Humboldt: The ‘Restitution Report’

This review gives an overview of the first reactions to the so-called ‘restitution report’ handed in to French president Emmanuel Macron on Nov 23, 2018 by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy[1]. The debate and reactions in politics, museums, academia, but also from the art market have been polarized and emotionally charged. Starting with first reactions […]

Humboldt: Reversal of the gaze

The reversal of the gaze – whether in anthropology or in art history –, is neither a banal nor a simple undertaking. Both the ability to reverse the gaze and the practiced reversal of the gaze are necessary conditions for the critical inquiry of the interrelatedness of contemporary power relations and the production of knowledge. […]

Humboldt: Everything Must Go: Looting the Museum as Compensation for Looting the World

Preliminary Remarks on: Felwine Sarr/Bénédicte Savoy, „The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics“ (November 2018). http://restitutionreport2018.com Marx was right, but we can delve deeper into his famous dictum from „The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte“. History does not repeat itself by alternating from tragedy to farce. Farce is the covering of […]

Humboldt: Challenges of rewriting the Khomani San/Bushman archive at Iziko Museums of South Africa

After many years of discussion and deliberation the controversial Ethnographic Gallery at Iziko South African Museum was finally de-installed on 15 September 2017. The response to the decision elicited an interesting and conflicting range of responses.  Several members of the public, including Khoisan descendants, complained about the closure, while a number of Khoisan chiefs and […]

Humboldt: Parzinger’s misconceptions and misrepresentations of the restitution of African artefacts

“The restitution of those cultural objects which our museums and collections, directly or indirectly, possess thanks to the colonial system and are now being demanded, must also not be postponed with cheap arguments and tricks.” Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause. (1) In an interview dated February 2018, Dr Herrmann Parzinger, […]

Humboldt: Palace Museums in the Cameroon Grassfields

In an average year, the museums in the Cameroon Grassfields host a wide range of visitors including international tourists and expats, members of the diaspora who return home to visit, students, academic researchers, and Cameroonians interested in art and culture. The Grassfields museums consciously set out to serve the needs and expectations of these local […]

Humboldt: A Contamination of Provenance?

Figure 1: the whip and bible ascribed to Hendrik Witbooi once prepared for transport to Namibia (February 2019, Linden Museum, photograph: Dominik Drasdow). In 2013, the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Art of Baden-Württemberg, in cooperation with the Linden Museum, initiated the process with Namibian counterparts that would lead to the restitution of the bible […]

Humboldt: Ethnological Collections and Municipal Displays

On September 14, 2018, Manuela Andreoni and Ernesto Londoño published an essay in the New York Times on the recent destruction of artifacts and records at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. They titled it: “Loss from Brazil fire felt like a ‘new Genocide’.” Their first major point was that this museum had housed […]

Humboldt: A postcolonial moment in analytic engagement with museum ethnographic collections?

• A postcolonial moment emerges as happenings of political, cultural and epistemic work in institutional and organisational settings—it is passage, trajectory, going-on inflected in particular ways. • Postcolonialism is not a stoppage or reversal of colonialism, rather a re-gathering and diverting. It is using resources at hand, albeit in some way an outcome of the […]

Humboldt: VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 2 – Getting to the core

[Please find the collected voices from day one here.] Day two of the conference “Museum Collections in Motion” offered an insight into curating practices from different places. Among others, Malick Ndiaye gave a talk on his work as curator for the Theodore Monod Mueseum of African Art in Dakar, Senegal in which he described the […]

Humboldt: Le patrimoine culturel à l’épreuve du temps au Bénin (Rapport de l’école doctorale au Bénin du 14 au 30 juillet 2018)

(1) Otoiu (2018), président du Vodoun, Dada Daagbo Hounon Hounan II et le groupe doctoral. L’école doctorale d’été « Processus de patrimonialisation, usages et muséification du passé » qui fait objet du présent rapport s’est déroulée à Porto-Novo au Bénin, du 14 au 30 juillet 2018. Dans cet article nous exposerons des discours temporels et […]

End of Negotiations: Doing Good/Doing Right and the Limits of Negotiation

  Preface: Why the interest in the “limits of negotiation”? Katja Rieck, Orient-Institut Istanbul Before delving into the main part of this blog post, it is important to begin with a few remarks on the significance of the topic of this blog series, which may not be clear to those who have not studied anthropology. […]

Humboldt: Colonial Collectors and their Legacy

At the time of writing, the conference Museum Collections in Motion lies only weeks in the past and its impacts, its questions and discussions still move me. For all its moments of connection and shared ideals, it was not a harmonious conference. Especially in the beginning, it seemed like mistrust could win over and end […]

Humboldt: From the brothers Humboldt to Jacques Chirac and back …

It was at the recently renamed ethnography museum in Hamburg (formerly Museum für Völkerkunde, today Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt) that a meeting was organized on the 18th of May, 2018 by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Goethe Institut with the rather long and awkward title: From “Frosty Deposits […]

Humboldt: VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 1 – Are academics asking the right questions?

The Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne has an impressive entrance hall: the ceiling is so high that it almost feels like being outside. Glass, dark brick stone walls, a shiny stone floor. For three days the museum is hosting the conference ‚Museum Collections in Motion‘ (15-17 July 2019) that promises ‚colonial and postcolonial encounters‘. The organizers are […]

End of Negotiations: Ideological Closure, Austerity and National Health Service Reforms

For my PhD research, I spent a year doing ethnographic fieldwork in Greater Manchester, with political activists campaigning against cuts and privatisation in the National Health Service (NHS), the UK’s public healthcare system. In this blog I focus on what I learnt from interviewing the managers and politicians who were pushing through the reforms to […]

Humboldt: What is a devolution?

Reading the contents in this blog (the ones I could read, since I don’t speak German), it struck me that, while a lot of debates in museums have been organized in terms of repatriation, in Brazil I have often heard a different term: devolution or return. So when I received an invitation to contribute to […]

Humboldt: Review: Curatopia. Museums and the Future of Curatorship

Schorch, Philipp; McCarthy, Conal (eds.): Curatopia. Museums and the Future of Curatorship. University Press, Manchester (2019). ISBN: 978-1-5261-1819-6.[1] Me, the curator Next to my daily affairs as a curator, there is hardly any time for reflexivity given the versatility of duties I am potentially responsible for. Did I take stock of the recently accepted donations? […]

Humboldt: VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 3 – Visions for the future

[Please find our collected voices from day one here and from day two here.] A very moving Day Two begged the question of how to conclude the conference. From our perspective, the question of how to move on, how to end a meeting like this, remained open. We do not know how the momentum of […]

Humboldt: Empirical notes on the exhibition “L’Un et l’Autre” (One and the Other)

“It is so much easier if you are an art museum!”[1] In the framework of the conference Exchanging perspectives: anthropologies, museum collections and colonial legacies between Paris and Berlin[2], I was asked to give an overview on the institutional changes of Parisian art museums with regard to colonial history. Indeed, I could have mentioned several […]

Humboldt: Tribal Displays: Colonial Repositories and Community Reconciliation

The practices of a new museology have recently raised debates involving public forums and dialogues. However, these transformation processes have also sought to rethink museum practices in remaking persons and remaking society. The practice of displaying ethnic groups in the museum builds on the debates of decolonising museums especially of those having ethnographic artefacts. Having […]

Kulturrelativismus: ON NOBLE ANTHROPOLOGISTS AND IGNOBLE JOURNALISTS

I thank the organizers of this blog for soliciting a foreign contribution. Unlike all previous contributors (as far as I can tell), I am based outside the country and the academic tradition in which I received my training. In 2017 it would be strange to exaggerate the significance of these differences within the broad field […]

Humboldt: Touching history

In Berlin, history is tangible. It strikes me every time I visit the city. Empty plots, fading shop signs, and crumbling facades bear witness to the city’s tumultuous past. Monuments bear scars. The bronze reliefs of the Siegessäule (moved to its current location by the Nazis) are pockmarked with 1945 bullet holes. After Germany’s reunification, […]

Humboldt: The pitfalls of ‘shared heritage’

As a historian of museum institutions on the African continent, and as someone who has chronicled the histories of earlier disputes around restitution, I have been following the growing debates around the reinstallation of European museums with great interest. They are, at least in part, responsible for the recent revival of debates around the western […]

Humboldt: Exasperation

Last fall, when the editors of this blog asked me to join their discussions about the Humboldt Forum, I declined. They explained that they wanted to broaden the debate by bringing in outside views. They thought I would be a good candidate, given my past work on the history of German ethnology and ethnographic museums. […]

Humboldt: The Crisis of Anthropological Museums from the Perspective of an Anthropology of Museums, and some Remarks on the Agency of Restitution Conceived as a Restitution of Agency

(July 2019) (1.) Apart from royal societies and their art, f.i. Benin Bronze sculptures, most African ritual objects were not preserved for eternity or for permanent preservation, but were made for their cyclical reproduction and renewal in new artefacts. Once objects fell out of ritual use or were damaged by use, they were destroyed or […]

Humboldt: Why has the ethnographic museum run out of steam?

Please allow me to begin with a Latourian digression to frame what I want to say about the current debates over ethnographic museums. “What has become of critique,” Bruno Latour asked almost fifteen years ago, “when an editorial in the New York Times contains the following quote? Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused […]

What's in a name?: „…unsere Gesellschaft den veränderten Verhältnissen anzupassen…“

Nicht nur gegen, sondern auch für eine Umbenennung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde wurde fachhistorisch argumentiert. Ein neuer Name für die Gesellschaft sollte als ein Zeichen der Distanzierung zur eigenen Disziplingeschichte verstanden werden, da etwa „die Völkerkunde einen nicht unerheblichen Anteil an der wissenschaftlichen Produktion und Legitimierung von Rassen-Theorien“ gehabt habe.[i] Im Gegenzug dazu beinhaltete […]

Humboldt: ‘Cannibals’ with Chestpains

A Pacific Presences Workshop meeting at Cambridge in July of this year revealed an estimated 250,000 Oceanic artifacts available in numerous German Völkerkunde museums. The astonishment behind this number is twofold: 1. Most of these objects were collected during a relatively short time (roughly between the years of 1870 to 1914). 2. Comparatively speaking German […]

Humboldt: „Stolen from Africa?“ Statement by the Basel Workshop on Namibian Cultural Heritage in Switzerland

by the Basel Workshop „Stolen from Africa? Restitution of Namibian Cultural Heritage in Switzerland“, 8 May 2019, organised by the Centre of African Studies of the University of Basel and the Basler Afrika Bibliographien in collaboration with the Swiss Society of African Studies and the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences Colonial heritage and, […]

Humboldt: Ambivalent Futures

The legacies of colonialism and imperialism are keeping the European museum scene busy. At first glance, colonial amnesia seems to be overcome and museums to pave the way for postcolonial restorative justice. A second glance, though, might reveal inconsistencies and shortcomings structuring present museum work. The current debate mainly focuses on objects being looted, exchanged, […]

Humboldt: Mehr Ethnologie ins Humboldt Forum!

Die Zeit läuft: 2019 wird mit dem Humboldt Forum das aktuell „größte und finanziell ehrgeizigste Projekt der Bundeskulturpolitik“  im Herzen der Hauptstadt eröffnet. Ein Ort der Begegnung soll(te) es aus Sicht seiner MacherInnen werden, in dem „Kulturen auf Augenhöhe“ miteinander in den Dialog treten, um „deren Vielfalt [zu] würdigen“.

What's in a name?: Die Geschichtsverdrängung der Ethnologen als gesellschaftliches Problem

Nomen est omen / Der Name ist Programm (contra Stocking 1971) Die Umbenennung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (DGV) in Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie (DGSKA) erscheint mir undemokratisch, unüberlegt und unhistorisch. Als relativer Außenseiter, in den Niederlanden ausgebildeter Ethnologe, der sich mit der Geschichte der Ethnographie, Ethnologie und Anthropologie beschäftigt und seit 1991 […]

What's in a name?: Warum die Umbenennung der DGV in DGSKA ein Fehler war

Früher Nachmittag des 6. Oktobers 2017, Hörsaal 1a der sog. Rost- und Silberlaube der Freien Universität Berlin: Aus einigen Ecken des Hörsaals ertönen verhaltene Freudenschreie, Menschen haben Tränen in den Augen, manche fallen sich mit einem ‚endlich geschafft‘ in die Arme. Was war passiert? Hatte die Europäische Union gerade in Brüssel bekanntgegeben, aufgrund der bei […]

Humboldt: Das Kulturerbe Benins auf dem Prüfstand der Zeit

unter Mitarbeit von Verena Rodatus (1) Otoiu (2018) Vorsitzender des Vodun, Dada Daagbo Hounon Hounan II. und die Doktorandengruppe Gegenstand dieses Berichts ist die Doktorandenschule „Prozesse von Kulturerbekonstruktionen, Nutzungen und Musealisierung von Vergangenheit“, die von 14. bis 30. Juli 2018 in Porto Novo in Benin stattfand. In diesem Beitrag werden wir die räumlichen und zeitlichen […]

What's in a name?: Ich habe nichts gegen Sozial- und KulturanthropologInnen, einige meiner besten FreundInnen sind Sozial- und KulturanthropologInnen

Ich arbeite am Institut für Kulturanthropologie/Europäische Ethnologie der Universität Göttingen; die wissenschaftliche Fachgesellschaft, bei der ich Mitglied bin, ist die dgv, die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volkskunde. Wie einige andere KollegInnen wurde ich von den Blog-BetreiberInnen freundlicherweise eingeladen, die Umbenennungsdebatte und ihre möglichen Folgen für das Verhältnis der beiden Fächer – Ex-Völkerkunde und Ex-Volkskunde – zu […]

Warum Ethnologie?: Mehr Fremdheit, mehr Kultur – weniger Natur, weniger Bekanntheit

I. Idealismus und Realismus Ich habe mich selbst schon immer als Idealisten eingeschätzt, war jedoch nie einverstanden mit der gängigen Gegenüberstellung von Idealismus und Realismus. Festhalten kann man jedenfalls, dass es ohne Idealismus keine Ethnologie hätte geben können. Egal wie sehr man von sich selbst behauptet, Realist zu sein: Unterschiede zwischen Gruppen anzunehmen, bedeutet immer […]

Kulturrelativismus: HOW CAN WE (NOT) COMPARE WITH CULTURAL RELATIVISM?

The excellent contributions to this blog have demonstrated beyond doubt how relevant and indeed necessary cultural relativism is, not only for contemporary anthropological research, but also for countering recent xenophobic, racist and populist trends in European politics and practices. I see the preceding posts as a great resource with potentials for undergraduate teaching and non-specialist […]

Warum Ethnologie?: Shifting balances – the challenge of anthropological writing

„Ethnography, then, is never just recollection: it is a reflection on, an examination of, and an argument about experience made from a particular standpoint, one that responds to questions which have their roots in the history of anthropological thinking.“ (Gay y Blasco & Wardle 2007, 9) Writing ethnography or anthropological papers is always a challenge […]

Humboldt: Lässt sich der koloniale Blick umdrehen?

Über Wochen blickte sie mir in Köln immer wieder von Plakaten und Fahnen entgegen. Eine furchteinflößende Figur (Abb. 1). Groß aufgerissene Augen, den Mund weit geöffnet, die Zähne gebleckt, das Gesicht kreideweiß, der linke Arm über den Kopf hin ausgestreckt, so dass man kaum umhin kam, sich an die Begrüßungsgeste der dunkelsten Epoche der deutschen […]

What's in a name?: Das Flurgespräch als ethnographisches Feld

Die  Gleichzeitigkeit von Homogenität und Diversität Wir sind vier wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter*innen und/oder Doktorand*innen an der Uni Köln.[1] In dieser Hinsicht besteht eine gewisse Nähe zum Blog, dessen Initiator*innen und den Debatten, die sich abseits des Blogs aus den bisherigen Beiträgen ergeben haben. Gleichzeitig war die Reichweite der Debatte um die Umbenennung der DGV selbst in […]

Humboldt: Die Schönheit des Vorübergehenden

Der Situation des Umbruchs, in der sich das ethnologische Museum momentan befindet, macht vieles gleichzeitig sichtbar: Plädoyers für wie auch Widerstände gegen konzeptuelle Erneuerung; die Frage des Umgangs mit der kolonialen Provenienz der Sammlungen, und daran anschließend die Debatten um Restitution. Ohne das Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss hätten viele dieser Fragen wohl kaum eine […]

Kulturrelativismus: FOUR COMMENTS ON ANTHROPOLOGY AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM TODAY

Christian Weber’s specific claims in the Süddeutsche Zeitung about the relationship of ethnology to native peoples hardly deserves our attention, so unreservedly arrogant and mean-spirited, as it is, filled with willful ignorance and misrepresentation. I am most puzzled why the editors of the SZ, which I highly respect and regularly read, would suspend their consistently […]

Humboldt: Call for reviews of the “Guidelines on Dealing with Collections from Colonial Contexts” issued by the German Museums Association in May 2018

The colonial legacies of German museums have been discussed intensely over the past few years – also in this blog. In September 2016 the German Museums Association established a working group that is looking into the issue of “collections from colonial contexts” and developing guidelines for the care of such collections. In May 2018 the […]

What's in a name?: Von Menschen und (ethnischen) Gruppen

Als der Blog zur Umbenennung unseres Fachverbands an den Start ging, vermutete ich, dass sich nun zunächst vor allem diejenigen äußern würden, die vom Ausgang der Abstimmung in Berlin enttäuscht waren. In der Tat haben bislang vor allem diejenigen FachvertreterInnen gebloggt, die die bei der Mitgliederversammlung 2017 zur Abstimmung stehende Alternativbezeichnung „Ethnologie“ bevorzugt hätten und […]

Humboldt: Mal d’archives revisited

[1] In der gegenwärtigen öffentlichen Debatte um die Restitution außereuropäischen Kulturerbes fällt (neben diversen anderen) eine Lücke besonders auf: Die Realitätsbedingungen der Suche nach Herkunft und Provenienz werden in der öffentlichen Diskussion systematisch ausgeblendet. Zwar weist die postkoloniale Provenienzforschung seit dreißig Jahren auf sie hin; entsprechend wird von den diversen Personen, die sich in den […]

Kulturrelativismus: RELATIVISMUS RELATIVIERT. FÜR EINEN MODERATEN KULTURRELATIVISMUS

Cora Bender kritisiert einen Artikel von Christian Weber in der Süddeutschen Zeitung, in dem er den Kulturrelativismus angreift und damit einen Kern der Ethnologie. Ich finde den Ärger, den ihre prompte Reaktion zeigt, berechtigt. Obwohl Benders Gegenrede deutlich länger als Webers Aufsatz ist, rekurriert sie fast nur auf seine Polemik gegen die Ethnologie. Auf die […]

Humboldt: Schlafende Objekte

Aquí leen la versión en castellano Die Nachricht vom verheerenden Brand im Nationalmuseum von Rio de Janeiro ruft auch folgenden Aspekt der Museen einer vergleichbar enormen Größe in Erinnerung: Gemäß ihrem Anspruch, die Nation und den Reichtum ihres Kulturerbes zu repräsentieren, wurden für sie Artefakte in großer Menge in aller Welt gesammelt und mit der […]

Humboldt: Durch den Tunnel der Kritik zum Weitblick

Fast ein Jahr nach Bénédicte Savoys medienwirksamen Rücktritt aus dem Beirat des Humboldt-Forums ist die politische und akademische Debatte um das Großprojekt und die Zukunft ethnographischer Sammlungen kaum abgeklungen. Fast täglich gibt es neue Einlassungen – nicht zuletzt auf diesem Blog. Es regt sich zudem seit längerem in der Museumslandschaft: Provenienzforschung erfährt ungeahnte Aufmerksamkeit, Restitutionsforderungen […]

Humboldt: Wessen Recht für wen?

Der Umgang mit kolonialen Kulturgütern und Human Remains in europäischen Kultur- und Wissenschaftsinstitutionen ist ohne Zweifel eine politische Frage, um die seit Jahrzehnten gekämpft wird. Dabei wird – auch auf diesem Blog – häufig auch mit der Rechtslage argumentiert. Das konfrontiert uns nicht nur mit der Frage, wie die Rechtslage ist oder sein könnte, sondern […]