We talk, you listen!
Currently, this contribution exists only in German, translation to follow.  

What does the future hold for ethnographic museums?
An interview with Nelson Adebo Abiti
The following Interview with Nelson Adebo Abiti was conducted in Cologne during the conference “Museum Collections in Motion: Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters” in July 2019, where artists, curators, experts, young researchers and scholars from around the world came together to speak about the need to decolonize museums and to find new forms of cooperation. It […]

Territory Dress 2019
A Film by Susan Stockwell
Territory Dress 2019 is a digital film by Susan Stockwell. The film explores the sculpture ‘Territory Dress’ and juxtaposes it with archival film of past seafaring imagery. It is as if the figure is remembering her history and making imaginary connections. Concerned with claiming female territory, mapping the body and exploring memories, traces and stories […]

Tervuren Invisible
Tervuren invisible (2007) is a videowork based on a critical interview with the Congolese painter Francis Mampuya. This interview was done in 2007 in Belgium, while Mampuya was there for a solo-exhibition in the framework of the Belgo-Congolese cultural project Yambi. This video is part of “ôtre k’ ôtre”, a video-installation by Kristin Rogghe & […]

02/06/20
The Ethics of Repatriation and Working Collaboratively in Aotearoa New Zealand
The return of human remains back to descendant communities and countries of origin is a growing and developing part of museology throughout the world. Fifty years ago returning human remains or even cultural objects was almost unheard of. But in 2019 the return of ancestral remains and objects is increasingly becoming the norm. In Aotearoa […]

01/27/20
Museumsethnologie. Eine Einführung. Theorien. Debatten. Praktiken.
Eine Rezension von Gesa Grimme
This review is currently only available in German.

Decolonisation? Collaboration!
Towards a Renewed Concept of ‘Museum’ in Europe and Africa
What options do we have for dealing with the Africa collections in our museums in Europe and in Africa? Let us start with a quote from Malcolm McLeod, keeper of the Department of Ethnography of the British Museum from 1974-1990: Museums are expected to collect things, yet museum collecting, in some cultures, need not be […]

12/20/19
Voices from the Conference “Museum Collections in Motion, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters“, Cologne, July 2019
Check out the trailer here!
We are pleased to present 15 film interviews from the conference “Museum Collections in Motion”, co-organized by the boasblogs and held at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne in July 2019 with more than 300 participants.

12/20/19
To set museum visitors thinking
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Helen Verran: Historian and philosopher of science, Charles Darwin University, Australia’s Northern Territory Helen Verran is a historian and philosopher of science at the Charles Darwin University in Australia’s Northern Territory where she holds the position of University Professorial Fellow in the College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Societies. Before taking up that position […]

12/20/19
For a new relational ethics
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Felwine Sarr: Economist, scholar & writer, University Gaston Berger of Saint-Louis, Senegal Felwine Sarr is a Senegalese scholar and writer born in 1972 in Niodior, in the Saloum Islands. He attends high school in Senegal before studying Economics at the University of Orleans where he obtains a doctorate in Economics in 2006. Full professor […]

12/20/19
Using collections in imaginative ways to speak to current problems
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Mary Mbewe: Doctoral student, University of Westen Cape / Historian, Mulungushi University, Zambia Mary Mbewe is a doctoral student in the Department of History at the University of Western Cape, Cape Town, where she also obtained her Masters in Museum and Heritage Studies and Postgraduate Diploma in Museum and Heritage Studies under the African […]

12/20/19
Create a new ethical footing and relate to historical injustices
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Ciraj Rassool: Historian, University of Western Cape, Cape Town Since 2015: Fellowship, Morphomata Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Cologne Since 2009: Professor of History at the University of Western Cape 2005 -2008: Associated Professor; History, University of Western Cape 1999 -2004: Senior Lecturer, History, University of Western Cape 1989 -1998: […]

12/20/19
Giving back what is not meant to be here
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Bebero Lehmann: Historian, Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Germany, Cologne Bebero Lehmann is a historian based at the Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Germany, Cologne (DOMiD e.V.). She studied history and German language and literature in Darmstadt, Paris and Cologne. Since 2017 she offers (post-)colonial city tours through Cologne. In […]

We can correct what was done wrong in the past
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Richard Tsogang Fossi: Curatorial research fellow at MARKK-Hamburg (former Ethnological Museum) Richard TSOGANG FOSSI is a PhD. Holder in the field of Intercultural German and Memory Studies. He received training as DaF-Didaktiker for High Schools level and is also busy as part-time lecturer at the University of Dschang in Cameroon. His fields of research […]

The question is really that of local agency
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Nicholas Thomas: Writer, museum director, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge Nicholas Thomas has written widely on art and cross-cultural encounters in the Pacific, as well as on museum histories and futures. His books include The Return of Curiosity: what museums are good for in the twenty-first century (2016). Director of the Museum of […]

12/20/19
We need a ‘Museum Truth Repatration and Restitutions Commission’
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Wandile Kasibe: Sociologist, museologist, Chevening scholar and public programmes coordinator at Iziko Museums of South Africa (but comments in his personal capacity) Wandile Kasibe is a UCT PhD Candidate in Sociology, his research focuses on “Museums and the Construction of Race Ideologies”. As a student, Kasibe was involved in the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF), […]

12/20/19
What we really need is a collaboration with the African diaspora here
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Rokia Bamba: sound designer and DJ, Brussels Since she picked up her headphones again, Rokia Bamba’s star is rising quickly in Brussels and Paris. She is not DJ-ing in just any circuit, but picks out the activist circles of Globalicious, La Colonie, Massimadi – where she curates the whole DJ-programming – and the New […]

12/20/19
Rewrite this archive
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Paul Tichmann: Historian, Iziko Museums of South Africa Paul Tichmann is a doctoral student in the History department at the University of the Western Cape. He is the Director of the Collections and Digitisation department at the Iziko Museums of South Africa and was formerly the curator of the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum in […]

12/20/19
Create a dialogue with people from all over the world about the objects we hold
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Stefanie Bach: Curator, State Ethnographic Collections Saxony Stefanie Bach is a curator for Global Art History with special reference to Africa at the Grassi Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, State Art Collections Dresden, Germany. She was a curatorial assistant at the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden and the Grassi Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig from […]

History is on our side
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Folarin Shyllon: Legal scholar, University of Ibadan, Nigeria Folarin Shyllon read law at King’s College London. He is the Chairperson of Nigerian Chapter UNESCO Memory of the World Committee. He specializes in cultural property law and intellectual property law. He is the author of Intellectual Property Law in Nigeria (C.H. Beck, Munich, Germany, 2003), […]

We must de-ethnographize the objects
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  El Hadji Malick Ndiaye: Art historian and curator, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar El Hadji Malick Ndiaye is an art historian based at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Senegal. He holds a PhD in Art History (University of Rennes II. France) and is a former postdoc of the Center for Research in […]

The postcolonial museum has less objects and more people in it
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
  Bernard Mueller: Anthropologist and curator, Cologne Bernard Müller is an anthropologist and curator based in Cologne. He studies research devices inspired by the ethnographic field, as they develop today in and outside scientific institutions. He is particularly interested in staging processes, be they scenic devices (theater, rituals, performance, etc.), museum scenographies or any situation […]

Bring up what is hidden about German colonialism
Voices from the conference 'Museum Collections in Motion‘
   Mnyaka Sururu Mboro: teacher & board member of Berlin Postkolonial Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, born 1951 near the Kilimandjaro in today’s Tanzania, is based in Berlin. Retired as a teacher he is still an activist, co-founder and board member of the non-government organisation Berlin Postkolonial. Mboro is actively committed to commemorate German colonial crimes […]

12/11/19
The Fundamental Problem of Ethnography and Colonialism
Some thoughts on two exhibitions in Berlin’s House of World Cultures
Through 6 January 2020 in the House of World Cultures in Berlin, one can still visit two exhibitions that have several things in common. The first is not unusual, but rather everyday museum practice. Both exhibitions are devoted to the work of dead, white, German men. “Spectral White: The Appearance of Colonial-Era Europeans” deals with […]

10/22/19
Review: Curatopia. Museums and the Future of Curatorship
A Review by Samuel Bachmann
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? […]

10/12/19
Colonial Collectors and their Legacy
Why Asking “Why?” Matters
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 […]

10/04/19
The Brachiosaurus brancai in the Natural History Museum Berlin
A Star Exhibit of Natural History as a German and Tanzanian Realm of Memory?
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 […]

VOICES FROM THE CONFERENCE 3 – Visions for the future
An Interview with Wandile Kasibe
[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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

07/17/19
Locating the Museum – Colonial Collections and their Publics
Museum Collections in Motion Final Panel Discussion

07/17/19
The Polity and the Ethnographic Museum: Where’s the Rub?

07/16/19
Restitution of African Artifacts: The Next Step, a New Relational Ethic
Museum Collections in Motion Evening Keynote by Felwine Sarr (Saint-Louis)

07/14/19
“Bringing home our Gods”
Nationalistic and Populistic Dangers in Debates about Heritage Restitution in India
“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 […]

07/14/19
Palace Museums in the Cameroon Grassfields
Sites of Inclusion, Exclusion, and Alienation
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 […]

07/14/19
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 Khoisan […]

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 […]

07/14/19
A Contamination of Provenance?
The Relevance of Extended Materialities to Provenance Research and Restitution Processes. Examples from the Linden Museum Stuttgart
  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 […]

07/14/19
BENIN BRONZES
SOMETHING GRAVE HAPPENED AND IMPERIAL RULE OF LAW IS SUSTAINING IT!
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 […]

07/10/19
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 […]

07/09/19
“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, […]

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 […]

06/11/19
Through the looking glass (excerpt)
From an anthropological museum…
Photographs as pdf prolog-ausstellung.info Anja Nitz is a Berlin based artist and photographer. Born in Hamburg (1971) she studied at Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee. In her work she deals with socially relevant institutions and she conceptually potrays the related buildings. Among others she has worked on the Berlin Charité Hospital and several important Berlin Embassies, the […]

06/04/19
Museum Collections in Motion International Conference
July 15-17, 2019, Cologne
Download the conference flyer here Download the detailed conference programme here. Download the poster here.

05/06/19
Decolonising requires dialogue, expertise and support
The Heidelberg Statement
Statement approved on the occasion of the 2019 Annual Conference of the Directors of Ethnographic Museums in German Speaking Countries, in Heidelberg: Within the German speaking area, more than twenty public ethnographic and world cultures museums, university museums and collections, as well as the ethnography departments of composite museums, conserve a substantial number of collections […]

03/19/19
Mal D’Archives Revisited or Archive Evils from a Postcolonial Perspective. An Obstructed View
[1] In the current public debate about the restitution of non-European cultural legacy, one gap (among diverse others) is especially conspicuous: the conditions of the search for the Herkunft (provenience) and provenience are systematically disregarded. Postcolonial provenience research has been pointing this out for thirty years; accordingly, the various persons who have recently expressed themselves […]

03/12/19
Wessen Recht für wen?
This article is currently only available in German. A translation is being prepared.

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 […]

Curating Relationships Collaboratively – From Intertwined Objects to Intertwined Subjects
Sorry, this contribution is currently only available in German. It will be translated into English soon.

01/22/19
Eurocentrism still sets the terms of restitution of African art
A selective view of African cultural heritage continues the colonialist paradigm
This comment was first published in the journal The Art Newspaper and later translated into German for this blog. The original post in The Art Newspaper can be found HERE. The German translation on this blog can be found HERE.

Reversal of the gaze
Epistemic violence, epistemic reconciliation, response-able knowledge production
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. […]

The ‘Restitution Report’
First Reactions in Academia, Museums, and Politics
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 […]

12/11/18
“The truth is that Europe has taken something from us, which it will never be able to return”*
*Translation from French by Michael Dorrity Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr have finally delivered President Emmanuel Macron with a report concerning the restitution of African objects currently held in French museums. For understandable historic reasons, Emmanuel Macron had limited the reach of the mission to previous territories over which the Republic had exercised responsibility. It […]

Whoever’s Right
Remarks on the Debate about Provenance and Return from the Perspective of Social and Cultural Anthropology
by Larissa Förster Translation: Mitch Cohen In the debate about colonial provenances and the restitution of objects from German museums to formerly colonized countries there is always an elephant in the room. The elephant is the law – when we are dealing with a “context of injustice”, the question whether this is or should be […]

Everything Must Go: Looting the Museum as Compensation for Looting the World
Raubkunstforschung als angewandte Wissenschaft
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 […]

A Human Skull for Sale: Is this possible?
On Oct. 18, 2018, under a title that translates as “Someone who buys something like this must be a bit crazy”, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published an interview with the business manager of the auction house Lempertz, Prof. Henrik Hanstein. The talk, conducted by Jörg Häntzschel, addressed an auction held on Oct. 24 in Lempertz’s Brussels […]

11/06/18
Empirical notes on the exhibition “L’Un et l’Autre” (One and the Other)
Palais de Tokyo, Paris 2018
“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 […]

11/02/18
Presentation – Achille Mbembe on “The Capacity for Truth: Of ‘Restitution’ in African Systems of Thought”
A.W. Amo Lecture 14th November 2018, 18h15, Melanchthonianum XX, MLU, Universitätsplatz 8/9, Halle Achille Mbembe WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg The Capacity for Truth: Of ‘Restitution’ in African Systems of Thought The lecture will explore some of the meanings attached to the concept and practice of restitution in precolonial African systems of thought. It […]

11/02/18
[Announcement] Achille Mbembe on “The Capacity for Truth: Of ‘Restitution’ in African Systems of Thought”
A.W. Amo Lecture 14th November 2018, 18h15, Melanchthonianum XX, MLU, Universitätsplatz 8/9, Halle Achille Mbembe WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg   The Capacity for Truth: Of ‘Restitution’ in African Systems of Thought The lecture will explore some of the meanings attached to the concept and practice of restitution in precolonial African systems of thought. […]

10/30/18
[translation underway]
The contribution “Das Kulturerbe Benins auf dem Prüfstand der Zeit” by Claudia Jürgens & Barpougouni Mardjoua is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.

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 […]

10/02/18
Sleeping Objects
On the future of museum artefacts
Aquí leen la versión en castellano The news of the devastating fire at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro calls to mind the following aspect of museums of a similar immense size: In keeping with their claim of representing the nation and the wealth of its cultural heritage, they have amassed large quantities of […]

09/25/18
Ambivalent Futures
On the restitution of objects and white innocence
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, […]

09/18/18
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 […]

Unbearable simultaneity
On the correlation between mobile objects and people*
*Translated from the German by Jane Yager On Sunday afternoon, 27 May 2018, I am watching the podium and listening to Tom Holert introduce the second day of the conference “Deep Time and Crisis, ca.1930”, which is taking place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin as part of the exhibition “Neolithic Childhood. […]

From the brothers Humboldt to Jacques Chirac and back…
A report from the three-day work shop: Exchanging perspectives: anthropologies, museum collections and colonial legacies between Paris and Berlin (June 6-8, 2018) held at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) and at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)
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 […]

[translation underway]
The contribution “Durch den Tunnel der Kritik zum Weitblick” by Faruzan Abulimiti, Armin Bestvater, Katharina Funk, Tobias Gaschler, Lea-Elisa Jakob, Vanessa Jüttner, Can Kapcik, Aaron Klinger, Felix Leikauf, Marvin Marcks, Gesa Marxsen, Yosé-Gré Reenders, Katharina Schramm and Cheyenne Thiel is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.

Imagine decolonizing the law – what would happen?*
*Translated by Jonathan DeVore and Julian Schmischke 7 June 2018: In the Schlüter courtyard of the German Historical Museum (DHM), I am waiting for interdisciplinary symposium “The Stone Cross from Cape Cross – Colonial Objects and Historical Justice,” to begin. I start to imagine what would happen if N’Jadaka, one of the main protagonists of […]

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 […]

06/12/18
[translation underway]
The contribution “Lässt sich der koloniale Blick umdrehen?” by Steffi de Jong is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.

05/29/18
[translation underway]
The contribution “Das Wissen der Anderen in der Provenienzforschung” by Andrea Scholz is currently being translated. Please check back in a few days.

05/22/18
Anthropological Collections
Not an apology but an amendment
Sometimes it needs a sensation to draw public and media attention to a problem that otherwise only experts are concerned with. Emmanuel Macron succeeded in doing so when on November 27th 2017 in Ouagadoudou he declared his intention to create “the conditions for a temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa within the […]

Touching history
Objects as witnesses, witnesses of objects
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, […]

The museum of liberation
An excursion into the early history of reconquest
“Nothing is more galvanizing than the sense of a cultural past. This at least the intelligent presentation of African Art will supply to us.” – Alain Locke, A Note on African Art, Opportunity, May 2, 1924 In his forward to the catalogue for the exhibition Blondiau – Theatre Arts Collection of Primitive African Art, which was […]

05/01/18
What do we know when we see?
Or how can museums of “the world” renew cultural geographies? A view from the State Museums of Dresden
Museums that have built collections of “world cultures”, known to us today as either ethnological or the more encompassing, encyclopedic museums, have not ceased to be the subject of impassioned debates. Even a cursory glance through the diverse and insightful contributions to this blog give us a sense of the poles along which deliberations over […]

04/17/18
“Dialogue” and “Collaboration” with “Source Communities”
Personal reflections on the theme of "common heritage"*
*Translated by Jonathan DeVore and Julian Schmischke Ethnological museums and collections occupy a special position within the museum landscape. One of the reasons for this is that many contemporary descendants of the communities from which the collections originate seek feedback from these collections. In this respect, these institutions have a new, particular user group, the […]

03/27/18
Humboldt Forum, Anthropology, and Cultural Heritage
Cultural heritage is the claim of a more or less exclusive collective ownership of material and/or immaterial cultural capital, whose origin in located in the past, which contributes to the construction of a group’s identity. This basically holds for all present and past societies of the world, although they differ from one another in the […]

03/20/18
Exasperation
An Outsider’s Take on (some of) the Current Debates Surrounding the Humboldt Forum
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. […]

What is a devolution?
The circulation of remnants and demonstrations of trust and recognition of indigenous peoples in Brazil
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 […]

02/27/18
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 […]

02/21/18
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, repeating […]

The Poisoned Museum
Recevoir est reçu The Edda/ M. Mauss 1 In an article in the 25 January issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the President of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Parzinger, took up Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion: artefacts that came to Europe in the colonial context should be exhibited in the site of their origin. In the […]

Photographs and colonial history in the museum
In Britain colonial history has, uncharacteristically, been headline news recently. This is not merely a post-Brexit vote sensitivity (well what is our history?), although this might be a deeply buried part of the narrative.  There are growing concerns about the visual conditions and public engagement with Britain’s colonial past. First were the demands from post-colonial […]

The Beauty of the Transient
A Plea for More ‘Concept’, Experiment and Fragility in the Museum
The times of rupture which ethnological museums are currently undergoing raise a number of issues at the same time: pleas for conceptual renewal as well as resistance against it; the question of how to deal with the colonial provenance of collections, which is followed by the debates about restitution. Many of these questions would have […]

More Ethnology – or rather Social and Cultural Anthropology?
– in the Humboldt Forum! Time for an Intervention
Time is moving on: in 2019, the Humboldt Forum, currently the “biggest and financially most ambitious project of German federal cultural policy”, will open in the heart of Germany’s capital. In the view of the organizers, it will/should become a site of encounter, in which “cultures engage in dialog as equals”, in order to “acknowledge […]

01/16/18
„lookingBACK“ and the question of gaze
A Review of the Permanent Exhibition at the Berlin Museum Treptow
In October 2017, in the midst of the scuffle over Humboldt’s legacy, a permanent exhibition with the cautious title „zurückGESCHAUT” (lookingBACK) opened in Berlin’s outer district of Treptow. With this exhibition, the Museum of Local History critically engages with the First German Colonial Exhibition, which took place in 1896 on the grounds of the Treptower […]

01/09/18
Basket, Earthenware Jug, Cross
The baskets rebelled: “‘Humans deal with us very poorly. When they no longer need us, they throw us away. Animals step all over us, the pigs and dogs. Then they throw us in the fire and burn us. I propose that we hide from the humans.’ […] They emptied themselves and left the house. After […]

12/19/17
Collateral Damage. A Polemic
“Europe is a master of criticism. If it doesn’t criticize, it disappears. What it fears most is nonexistence. I tried to criticize it, too, because it demanded this from me, but I wasn’t able. At most, I could repeat its self-criticism.”[1] These sentences by the Japanese author Yoko Tawada occurred to me when I read […]

A Look into the Vienna Weltmuseum
The relaunched Ethnological Museum of Vienna gives us a first taste of Berlin’s Humboldt Forum to come
Following a three-year renovation period, the former Ethnological Museum in Hofburg/Vienna was recently reopened as the Vienna Weltmuseum (VWM). Responsible for content development and the presentation of the exhibits was the same museum exhibition design firm, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, which previously designed the Canadian National Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg and the National Museum […]

‘Cannibals’ with Chestpains
On Ethnographic Collection Histories
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 […]

11/28/17
Overcoming Distances and Boundaries
Some Reflections on Collaboratively Working with Ethnographic Materials in Germany and Australia
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 […]

11/21/17
Pompeii in Africa
or the Recentering of the World
In October 1894, the German colonial forces conquered Kalenga, the fortress and residence of the ruler of the Hehe, Mkwawa, who had resisted the German conquest in the mainland of what is Tanzania today, for almost a decade. The colonial troops set the town on fire. According to Friedrich von Schele, governor of German East […]

11/14/17
Questions Beyond the Humboldt Forum
Berlin Culture Senator Lederer’s remark, “Ethnology is just beginning to deal with its history” (Viola König in her blog contribution of 3 Oct. 17) stands for the uninformed opinions of other politicians, as well. But science’s historical experience has accustomed it to such talk and led it to put up with such false depictions of […]

11/07/17
Between the Stools
The Professional Association of Ethnologists Discusses the Humboldt Forum
“Ethnology in the Humboldt Forum: Quo Vadis Berlin’s Mitte District – and with Whom?” was the title of a podium discussion held as one of the highlights of this year’s conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie (German society for social and cultural anthropology). Moderated by the journalist Thomas Schmidt of the weekly […]

Blind Spots and Asterisks in the Subtitle
Reactions to the Exhibition “Bremen and Art in the Colonial Era”
In individual psychology, blind spots are the phenomenon in which certain emotionally unpleasant matters are blocked out of subjective consciousness, rendering them inaccessible to conscious processing. They have seldom been diagnosed in museums; after all, these institutions exhibit what is beautiful and important in a society and shed a special light on what was previously […]

Into the Whirlpool
Part Two: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Marx was right, but we can delve deeper into his famous dictum from the “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”. History does not repeat itself by alternating from tragedy to farce. Farce is the covering of tragedy, i.e., its being and its mask. The beheading of the former ethnological museum is a tragedy that hasn’t […]

Into the Whirlpool
Part One: Soft Spots and Blind Spots
Everything has been said about the Humboldt Forum. And it was already said ten years ago. The discussion has long gone around in circles. This year, newspaper culture sections have taken charge, without bringing up any new aspects. The only new thing is the marked pull downward, which is addressed in the two essays by […]

10/10/17
The Frogs Croaked Cleverly, but the Cows Continue Drinking Water from the Pond
On the Panel Discussion “Shared Heritage? Colonial Knowledge in History and the Present” at the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology, September 26, 2017
© Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg. Photos: Arne Bosselmann The 205 seats of the patina-covered, large lecture hall of Hamburg’s Museum of Ethnology (Hamburger Völkerkundemuseum), built in 1912, with its all-around wood paneling, must have seldom been occupied to the last seat in recent years.[1] At the same time, more than 80 people who were no […]

How to move on with Humboldt’s legacy?
Re-thinking ethnographic collections
The Humboldt Forum, which is currently being built in the middle of Berlin within the walls of the reconstructed Prussian Berlin Palace and will be hosting the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin from 2018, has become a focal point for debates on these matters in Germany. With the withdrawal of art historian Bénédicte Savoy […]