‘Cannibals’ with Chestpains: On Ethnographic Collection Histories

5. December 2017

by Rainer F. Buschmann

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 museums house more Oceanic artifacts than France (65,000), The Netherlands (80,000) and Russia (10,000) combined (Buschmann, forthcoming). Assuming that similar numbers also emerge from the rich African collections in the same museums, one can easily grasp the multiple controversies surrounding the Humboldt Forum and related Völkerkunde museums highlighted in this fascinating blog space. The focus of this blog – the novel rethinking of ethnographic collection – should, however, engage “newer” as well as “older” considerations.

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Overcoming Distances and Boundaries Some Reflections on Collaboratively Working with Ethnographic Materials in Germany and Australia

28. November 2017

by Martin Porr

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 collections acquired? How have they shaped the view of other cultures and of Europe’s self-understanding? For the many specialists working in these institutions, these challenges are not new even if they have been differently articulated through time.

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Pompeii in Africa or the Recentering of the World

21. November 2017

by Paola Ivanov

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 Africa at the time, at least 250 people died during the conquest of Kalenga, probably many more.

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Questions Beyond the Humboldt Forum

14. November 2017

by Claus Deimel

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 its history more or less with composure, because it knows that politics can seldom deal flexibly with the “general opinion” that is armed for colonial thinking and behavior.

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Between the Stools The Professional Association of Ethnologists Discusses the Humboldt Forum

7. November 2017

by Jonas Bens

“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 paper “Die Zeit”, four researchers took part in the once again heated debate about the Humboldt Forum: Albert Gouaffo (Professor for German Literaturee in Dschang, Cameroon), Viola König (Director of the Ethnological Museum Berlin), Carola Lentz (Professor for Ethnology in Mainz), and Wolfgang Schäffner (Professor for the History of Knowledge and Culture at the Humboldt University Berlin).

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Blind Spots and Asterisks in the Subtitle Reactions to the Exhibition “Bremen and Art in the Colonial Era”

31. October 2017

by Cordula Weißköppel

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 hidden. It is all the more surprising that, at the beginning of August, Bremen’s Kunsthalle opened its print room to present the special exhibition “Bremen and Art in the Colonial Era” and took “The Blind Spot” as its leitmotif. During the colonial era, didn’t people speak more about the “white spots” on the map?

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Into the Whirlpool Part Two: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

24. October 2017

by Erhard Schüttpelz

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 only now taken on the form of a farce, but that was prepared by many little tragicomic travesties. And after 15 years of discussion, all the repetitions of this process ineluctably become parodies – and I am no exception. I devote myself to the farce to make the tragedy more recognizable.

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Into the Whirlpool Part One: Soft Spots and Blind Spots

17. October 2017

by Erhard Schüttpelz 

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 Viola König and Bernhard Streck. Ethnology was excluded from the management level of an ethnological museum or a permanent ethnological exhibition, without discussion and without reasons; and the building will be crowned with a five-meter-high cross, to be understood as a sign of tolerance, so that the heathen traditions can find their place in the Occident. The exclusion looks like a scientific discipline punished by being declared underage, the cross like a satire: those who don’t want it are simply not tolerant enough.

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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

10. October 2017

by Michi Knecht

© 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 longer let in jostled in the foyer outside the doors. The museum, under the new Director, Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner, previously of the Vienna World Cultures Museum Wien and Yale University Art Gallery, had invited people to a discussion of “Colonial Knowledge in History and the Present”, and a large audience had come. Apparently, the educated classes currently display something like momentum, a new dynamic and intensity in dealing with the colonial “heritage” – after postcolonial activist groups and a few historians, ethnologists, and scientists from related fields fought so long and from a very marginalized position against “colonial amnesia” and apathy. That we also have to do with a colonial aphasia, a deep-seated political and societal, historically acquired, multimodal disturbance and destruction of language repeatedly became visible in the podium discussions and the audience debates. But at least in part, the invited podium guests brilliantly elaborated and commented on this colonial linguistic disturbance.

moreThe 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