by Sarah van Beurden
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 possession of African heritage. In particular, this connection is apparent in the projected reinstallation of the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the Humboldt Forum, slated to open in December 2019, as well as in the renovation and reinstallation of the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Belgium, slated to reopen this December. The leadership of these institutions have, to their credit, engaged with the existing debates. However, in doing so, both Hermann Parzinger, head of the Humboldt Forum and Guido Gryseels, director of the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, have used the concept of ‘shared heritage’ (patrimoine partagé) to define their collections, as a way to address a common history and to recognize the importance of the objects in their institutions for multiple communities. I want to explore the historical trajectory of that term and its consequences here.