by Rainer Hatoum
*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 “source communities”[i].
In my several years of exploring the challenges and opportunities of this development, through a two-year apprenticeship at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin and two three-year research projects (2005-2012), as well as in subsequent research, I have been intensively concerned with exploring the question about the extent to which museums can more actively involve these communities as “partners.” The emergence of the core idea of a “shared” or “common cultural heritage” is obvious – after all, the collections are also products of our interwoven histories of interaction. I shed light on this idea on the basis of several long-term, “collaboration”-oriented projects. The aim was not only to review the history of individual collections, but also to update their biographies. The experience I gained along the way made clear to me the necessity of better problematizing one’s own role as “dialogue partner” in such processes, and addressing the question, “What do we actually want and for what purpose?”
more ““Dialogue” and “Collaboration” with “Source Communities” Personal reflections on the theme of “common heritage”*“
by Christian Feest
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 manner in which this capital is accumulated and managed, how the past is constructed, and to what extent the construction of identity is articulated or reflected—be it as an expression of a living and continually changing tradition, be it through the preservation of unchanging material documents (including records of actions or events in writing, images, or sound), be it—as in our society—by a never consistent parallel use of both strategies.
more “Humboldt Forum, Anthropology, and Cultural Heritage”
by H. Glenn Penny
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. I was not so sure. It is a strikingly internal debate, and to be quite honest, it’s disconcerting on many levels. I cannot touch on them all here; but I can share some of my exasperation.
more “Exasperation An Outsider’s Take on (some of) the Current Debates Surrounding the Humboldt Forum“
by Ulrich van Loyen
Recevoir est reçu
The Edda/ M. Mauss
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 shadow of France, the Prussian State Possessions, with its Prussian Palace – that vintage sarcophagus that does not hold the entire world as Hegel imagined, but nonetheless the Prussian-German relationship to the entire world, sees itself obligated to make an impressive international display. For of course what are required – alongside the gigantic, politically legitimized research funds to reconstruct proveniences, decipher handwritings, and ensure transparency vis-à-vis sponsors and the sovereign (digitalization) – are above all international framework conditions for the exhibitions so that the return of the exhibition objects can be regulated, together with the proper recipient – best identified by those carrying out the restitution; the recipient will also have to ensure the proper institution for and the proper treatment of the objects. Whether these are to be legally binding returns or merely loans seems to be secondary for Parzinger (which says a lot). For the example of sculptures from the royal house of Benin, Parzinger points out that it first must be considered who will get something back. And yes, it would be best for many, many people to consider this, all of Europe, because after all that’s where the objects are strewn. One could fear that the result could be a European pedagogical mission, in this case to the Nigerians, who for a start are called upon to show patience and understanding for the German mixture of barbarism and pedantry. The museums must be built and operated, and one wishes the state of Nigeria lots of fun thereby. But the hope – as can be glimpsed through the suggestions – is that somehow the museum could be the site where a riven nation could convalesce or an “imagined community” come together. As if what is to be returned was what will first produce those to whom it is returned. Along with the museum-ripe relationships to the rest of the world to which Germany wants to arrive, these are lovely prospects.