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Working Through Colonial Collections

An Ethnography of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin

Margareta von Oswald (Author),

Category: Anthropology, History 1800-present, Museum and Heritage Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Social Science

Language: English

ISBN: 9789462703100

Publication date: November 8, 2022

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Number of pages: 320

Size: 234 x 156 x 17 mm

Illustrations and other content description:
Illustrated with a colour section of 32 pp. Guaranteed Peer Reviewed Content

Funded by: KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access
Humboldt Universität
CARMAH

Stock item: 151077

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Category: Anthropology, History 1800-present, Museum and Heritage Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Social Science

Language: English

ISBN: 9789461664259

Publication date: October 28, 2022

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Number of pages: 320

Illustrations and other content description:
Illustrated with a colour section of 32 pp. Guaranteed Peer Reviewed Content

Funded by: KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access
Humboldt Universität
CARMAH

Category: Anthropology, History 1800-present, Museum and Heritage Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Social Science

Language: English

DOI: 10.11116/9789461664242

ISBN: 9789461664242

Publication date: October 19, 2022

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Number of pages: 320

Illustrations and other content description:
Illustrated with a colour section of 32 pp. Guaranteed Peer Reviewed Content

Funded by: KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access
Humboldt Universität
CARMAH

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Reckoning with colonial legacies in Western museum collections

What are the possibilities and limits of engaging with colonialism in ethnological museums? This book addresses this question from within the Africa department of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. It captures the Museum at a moment of substantial transformation, as it prepared the move of its exhibition to the Humboldt Forum, a newly built and contested cultural centre on Berlin’s Museum Island. The book discusses almost a decade of debate in which German colonialism was negotiated, and further recognised, through conflicts over colonial museum collections.

Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork examining the Museum’s various work practices, this book highlights the Museum’s embeddedness in colonial logics and shows how these unfold in the Museum’s everyday activity. It addresses the diverse areas of expertise in the Ethnological Museum – the preservation, storage, curation, and research of collections – and also draws on archival research and oral history interviews with current and former employees. Working through Colonial Collections unravels the ongoing and laborious processes of reckoning with colonialism in the Ethnological Museum’s present – processes from which other ethnological museums, as well as Western museums more generally, can learn.

With a preface by Sharon Macdonald.

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

A visual introduction Acknowledgements Foreword
Introduction
Chapter One Learning about German colonialism: On memory, activism, and the Humboldt Forum
Chapter Two Being affected: A methodological approach to working through colonial collections
Chapter Three Expanding collection histories: The museum as peopled organisation
Chapter Four Troubling epistemologies: On the endurance of colonial discrimination
Chapter Five Managing plethora:Caring for colonial collections
Chapter Six Researching provenance: The politics of writing history
Chapter Seven Probing materiality: Collections as amalgams of their histories
Chapter Eight Repairing representations: Curatorial cultures and change in the Ethnological Museum
Conclusion
Timeline References cited

Margareta von Oswald

Margareta von Oswald is an anthropologist and curator. She is a research fellow at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She co-edited 'Across Anthropology. Troubling Colonial Legacies, Museums, and the Curatorial' (2020, Leuven University Press).

Impressive. This research spans a crucial decade of critique, debate, and change in Europe’s ethnological museums. The fieldwork offers a rich 'inside' view of the choices facing museum professionals working under unprecedented pressures and constraints. Von Oswald’s attitude of 'observant participation' dissolves the binaries that can orient understandings of a controversial project like the Humboldt Forum. The book’s detailed ethnographic accounts are effectively articulated with analyses pitched at wider institutional, national and international levels. The organizing concept of 'working through' denotes acting within-and-against institutional structures, working toward a transformation without guarantees. Von Oswald argues for more open, responsive, decolonizing developments, without ever grasping for easy alternatives or final solutions.James Clifford, University of California

The book will be a great source of information for museum researchers; decolonial scholars, and scholars interested in German colonial history, cultural politics in Berlin and Germany, the nature of institutions and public political debate; as well as anthropologists who deal with material culture and the history of anthropology as a discipline. - Isabel Bredenbröker, The February Journal, 03: 161–166, https://doi.org/10.35074/FJ.2024.16.47.010

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