Debates

Decolonizing Provenance Research in Practice. Some Guidelines
DCNtR Debate #2
With increased public and professional calls to re-examine collecting, many museums have renewed commitments to provenance research. Provenance research raises pressing ethical questions: to whom should cultural heritage belong? How can museums equitably address unethical historical collecting practices? Provenance cannot necessarily answer these questions but sharing provenance information allows museums to tell more nuanced stories […]

Collections, Archives, Repositories. Thoughts about Terminology from a Peripheral Ethnological Collection
DCNtR Debate #2
As Brian M. Watson recently argued, the “archive” should not “refer to, well, just about anything”. Apart from muddying the waters and confusing what an actual archive is and what the people working there, archivists, do, it is of particular importance for the emerging re-engagement with ethnological museum collections in the context of provenance research. […]

“Sensitivity” at Work. A Double-Edged Sword
DCNtR Debate #2
“Cultural sensitivity” has emerged as a central, though ambivalent, concept in my archival work of the past twenty years. Thereby, my experience has been markedly influenced by my regional focus on North America. Here, socio-political changes led to the passing of laws such as the Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Native Grave Protection and […]

Provenance Research before Repatriation: The Limits of Museums’ Archives
DCNtR Debate #2
As calls for cultural objects’ repatriations[1] are increasing and museums are being confronted with the colonial aspects of their collections and of the institution itself, one of the responses from the museum world is to highlight the need for research and documentation. The argument is that in order to know what to return, one needs […]

04/05/22
Archives Research on Chinese Government’s Preparation for the 1935 Royal Academy International Exhibition of Chinese Art
DCNtR Debate #2
Fig. 1. The Poster of the 1935 International Exhibition of Chinese Art. Courtesy to the Royal Academy of Arts. The International Exhibition of Chinese Art (hereinafter 1935 Exhibition) was held at Burlington House, London, from 28 November 1935 to 6 March 1936.[1] As “one of a sequence of national art shows” at the Royal Academy […]

What’s the Use of the Archive? Questions of locality, accessibility, and digitalisation
DCNtR Debate #2
Case 1 My (Larissa) first confrontation with issues surrounding the decolonisation and locality of archives between the Global North and South took place in 2018, through my visits to a private Nigerian archive.[1] When I boarded the airplane, I did not know of the existence of this archive yet. Once I had arrived at my […]

Documenting Coloniality
DCNtR Debate #2
Ethnographic collecting in the late 19th and early 20th century was a method of colonial knowledge production and served the narrative of European cultural and scientific dominance. We understand ethnographic museums themselves as colonial archives. Although they are always incomplete and biased, as such, they are promising historical sources for the investigation of certain persons’ […]

DCNtR Debate #2
Thinking About the Archive & Provenance Research
In the debate about the colonial past of ethnological museums in Western Europe, provenance research has emerged in recent years as the main method for researching colonial legacies and addressing museums’ need for decolonisation. What has been lacking, however, is a debate about the theoretical implications of this approach – what kinds of knowledge can […]

05/18/21
About the DCNtR Debate Series
With “The Gender of Ethnographic Collection”, the DCNtR blog “Decentering Collections: Networking towards Relationality” is starting a new blog format – the DCNtR Debate. DCNtR Debate No. 1 is curated by Carl Deussen (Cologne) and Mary Mbewe (Cape Town). DCNtR-Debates will focus on controversial and debatable aspects of the debates on the decolonisation of museums […]

Artistic Interventions in the Historical Remembering of Cape Slavery, c.1800s.
Traces of Violence from Dismembered Archives In recent years, there has been an outpouring of critical scholarship focused on dissecting colonial museums and archives, specifically in relation to the difficulties of retrieving the voices of black indigenous enslaved women in ethnographic collections. Frequently, historians note that traditional archival material is incomplete and written primarily by […]