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: 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?: 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 […]


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: 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: “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 […]

End of Negotiations: The Limits of Negotiation

Horkheimer: Theory is theory in the authentic sense only where it serves practice. Theory that wishes to be sufficient unto itself is bad theory. On the other hand, it is also bad theory if it exists only in order to produce something or other.[1] Adorno: Theory is already practice. And practice presupposes theory. Today, everything […]

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: 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 […]

Humboldt: Into the Whirlpool

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 […]

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 Khoisan […]

Humboldt: Sleeping Objects

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 […]

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: 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 […]

Humboldt: The museum of liberation

“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 […]

Humboldt: More Ethnology – or rather Social and Cultural Anthropology?

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 […]

Humboldt: Decolonisation? Collaboration!

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 […]

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 […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

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: Into the Whirlpool

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 […]

Humboldt: Re-Colonizing Memory

This building is a statement. When you enter the port of Pointe-à-Pitre, the capital of the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, you do not see an imposing cathedral, a government palace or a stadium. What catches your eye is a museum. A modern structure, covered with a metallic grid evoking tropical trees’ aerial roots, stretching for […]

Humboldt: The Beauty of the Transient

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 […]

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 […]

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: 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 […]

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 […]

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. During […]

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 […]

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: A Look into the Vienna Weltmuseum

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 […]

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: 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: 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: The Fundamental Problem of Ethnography and Colonialism

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 […]

End of Negotiations: Climate change policy

The avowed purpose of policy, whether devised by a government, non-governmental body or an organisation, is to direct action to address an issue, event or interaction, with the objective of improving or reforming the social or natural world. Social policies address issues bearing upon economic and political stability; continuity, security and cultural integrity, individual and […]

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: Unbearable simultaneity

*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. […]

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: „lookingBACK“ and the question of gaze

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 […]

Humboldt: Blind Spots and Asterisks in the Subtitle

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 […]

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 […]

Humboldt: To restore = to connect, to live

« Habiter ce monde, c’est partir d’un lieu certes, un lieu-matrice, mais dont on apprend à se déprendre pour l’articuler à d’autres lieux. » (Felwine Sarr, Habiter le monde, p. 42) “To live in this world is to start from a place, a place-matrix, but one that you learn to unlearn to articulate it to other places. […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

Humboldt: What do we know when we see?

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 […]

Humboldt: Between the Stools

“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 […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

Humboldt: Anthropological Collections

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 […]

Humboldt: What does the future hold for ethnographic museums?

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 […]

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: 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: 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 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: “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 […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

Humboldt: Whoever’s Right

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 […]

Humboldt: “Dialogue” and “Collaboration” with “Source Communities”

*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 […]

Humboldt: The Frogs Croaked Cleverly, but the Cows Continue Drinking Water from the Pond

© 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 […]


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: 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 […]

Humboldt: 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 […]

Humboldt: Anything but a Völkerkundemuseum [ethnographic museum]

“Be outraged, but publicly, please! Anthropology as a Science of Disturbance” – this was the title of a plenary session moderated by Cassis Kilian at the 2013 German Anthropological Society conference “Positionings: Anthropology in the Academy, the World of Work, and the Public Sphere” in Mainz, where I lectured on the then-current state of the […]

Humboldt: The Puzzle of the Postcolonial Purse

Since the writing of this piece, the Amsterdam Museum of Bags and Purses has sadly been forced to close due to financial pressures exacerbated by the current crisis. This is a difficult time for all heritage organisations, and smaller institutions are always the most at risk. The closing of the Museum of Bags and Purses […]

Humboldt: Pompeii in Africa

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 […]

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: “No power for nobody”

The goal is accomplished. The establishment of the new Humboldt Forum has revived what Adolf Bastian was aiming at by founding the Ethnological Museum in the middle of the aspiring metropolis Berlin [in 1873], but which was buried under the bombshells of the Second World War. Bastian’s key concern was, however, to present the results […]

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?: „…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 […]

End of Negotiations: Taking measures as end points?

An agronomist measuring the length and width of “fingers” of a new banana variety. Kawanda, Uganda (January 2016, S. Calkins) An arm circumference that is too small, a waistline that is too wide, blood sugar levels that are too high. Measurements count among the powerful tools for ending long negotiations and establishing clear matters of […]

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: 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 […]

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, […]

Warum Ethnologie?: ~: Warum das Ethnologon ins Leben hineinlassen? :~

…..°°°°….   ..     ..  .   .  °°  .       ..    .     .        .   °°° .  °° .. .  ..    ..   .   .  .    .° .      .       . ~: Warum das Ethnologon ins Leben hineinlassen? :~      .         .         . …   . . . ° °°  . . .       ..   .°°….°    […]

Page: About this blog

Ever since in 2002 the decision was made for the Ethnologische Museum Berlin to move into the reconstructed Prussian Berlin Palace, a remarkably controversial debate has been taking place about the role of ethnographic collections and the relevance of social and cultural anthropological content in the future Humboldt Forum. The debate reached an initial climax […]

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, […]

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: How to move on with Humboldt’s legacy?

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 […]

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 […]


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: Decolonising requires dialogue, expertise and support

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 […]

Page: About

The boasblogs are a series of topic-related blogs that take up current topics relating to the anthropological sciences, discuss them in their controversy through a wide circle of contributors, and at the same time ask about the public role and social relevance of anthropological knowledge. All boasblogs, in the sense of a public anthropology, aims […]

Humboldt: 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 & […]

Humboldt: Territory Dress 2019

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 […]

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 […]


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: What we really need is a collaboration with the African diaspora here

  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 […]


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 […]