Basket, Earthenware Jug, Cross

9. January 2018

by Mark Münzel

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 a time, the woman of the house came from the plantation with manioc and bananas. The baskets had not moved far away. They heard how the woman said, ‘Who took away my baskets? Where should I store everything?’ The baskets laughed, but then they returned, because the disorder in the house was too great without them. ‘And who threw away everything that was in you?’ asked the woman. ‘We did it, and it was right,’ said the baskets.”

Collateral Damage. A Polemic

19. December 2017

by Karl-Heinz Kohl

“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 some of the blog texts. Yoko Tawada is referring to Europe, but she really means Germany, the country she has lived in for so long.

A Look into the Vienna Weltmuseum The relaunched Ethnological Museum of Vienna gives us a first taste of Berlin’s Humboldt Forum to come

12. December 2017

by Johanna Di Blasi

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 of African American History and Culture opened by Barack Obama in Washington DC, and which is also currently preparing the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Therefore, Vienna can be considered a test run for the major project in Berlin, which is also housed in a palace. At the Vienna Weltmuseum, we are able to paradigmatically study the state-of-the-art of ethnographic-scenographic exhibitions in the second decade of the 21st century, as well as the new role of contemporary art in historical museums, the latter of which I gave special attention to during my visit.

‘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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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?

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.