Schlagwort-Archive: Museologie

Conference Review: Provenance Research


Impressions of the conference “Provenance research in ethnographic collections of colonial times”, 7-8 April 2017, Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich.

The event was organised by the Working Group on Museums of the German Anthropological Association (DGV) and the Museum Fünf Kontinente. Larissa Förster (CARMAH, Humboldt University Berlin), Iris Edenheiser (Museum Europäischer Kulturen Berlin) and Sarah Fründt (University College Freiburg) laid out their reasons for such an endeavour in their announcement of these two ambitiously scheduled days: Provenance research – itself a comparatively new concept in the museum field – has become a pivotal element of the work done in museums. But only recently have discussions on provenance in the German speaking areas been extended from items related to theft, dispossession, forced sales in the context of National Socialism to such things, artefacts, (human) remains appropriated in colonial times. During a general assembly of the Working Group on Museums in 2015, questions arising from these new research fields were discussed. Here, the need for further exchange, the creation of a broader network between people working on or preparing provenance research, structures for closer national and international collaboration and pooling of resources was articulated. With support of the funding initiative “Research in Museums” of the Volkswagen Stiftung, Förster, Edenheiser, Fründt and the host institution attempted to meet these needs. The conference was geared towards knowledge transfer between actors in Germany, working with ethnographic collections related to colonial times, as well as international experts with vast experience in provenance research (in contexts often referred to as “source communities”), and also included a panel on provenance research related to National Socialism. The first day consisted of an international panel in the morning and a panel on history and methods of provenance research related to National Socialism in Germany in the afternoon and was structured in a conference format. The day was concluded with a panel discussion in which international speakers reflected upon challenges and different perspectives of provenance research. On the second day, shorter presentations were given, introducing different projects working on ethnographic collections in Germany, examples of negotiations between institutions and expert communities concerning specific things in collections, as well as possibilities of including aspects of provenance research into exhibitions; it was conceived of as a workshop-like situation.


Congruent with the aims of the event, the audience was mainly professional, including museum staff, junior and senior researchers. The conference was not designed to serve a broader public; it focussed less on yet another introduction into the problematic issues of ethnographic collections from colonial times but rather on the question of how to deal with some of these issues in everyday museums´ work, in a pragmatic manner. Nevertheless, also these seemingly technical aspects of course raised fundamental questions. For example, speakers of both morning sessions introduced different methodologies of provenance research and showed possibilities of setting up databases, creating visualisations of the biographies of things in collections, of their connections to certain collectors, the ways they had travelled etc. Questions arose as to whether the categorisation underlying such systematizations could possibly be done adequately by German institutions, if they did not consider indigenous conceptions of things, places and their connections to people.

Throughout the different presentations, the ones working closer to the places and with the people from where the things had been taken/stolen, seemed to follow a slightly different course than those concentrating on German institutions as archival starting point. The latter seemed to be primarily concerned with the past of things; to find out as much as possible about the historic context of the collections and the ways in which they entered their institutions. Only in a second, third step would they link their findings with the knowledge of indigenous people living today who have a connection to the respective things. On the other hand, people being in a position to start their research from that perspective can look at the collections from this place of knowledge and thereby generate a different approach. Especially notable was this during the presentations by Eeva-Kristiina Harlin (University of Oulu, Finland), who spoke from a Sámi perspective on recording Sámi heritage in European museums and on contemporary projects working with Sámi art and design, and the paper by Amber Kiri Aranui (Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand). Aranui gave the audience an idea of the broad spectrum of archives she can work with when researching the provenance of ancestral remains – from shipping records, newspaper clippings, to reports from the people affected. She has worked for the repatriation program of the Te Papa for almost 10 years now. This enables her to quickly link information on places and collectors with the vast knowledge she has acquired over the years.


Many of the provenance research projects presented by German institutions seemed to be aware of the fact that collaborations with scholars from the contexts where the collections had been taken from would make their work more efficient. Christine Schlott (Leipzig) for example spent two months at the Te Papa museum for her research in the anthropological collections in Dresden. The museum had been addressed with claims for returns and repatriations since the 1990es, so that provenance research had become due. Paola Ivanov (Ethnological Museum Berlin/Humboldtforum) presented a project concerned with things looted during the Maji Maji war in Tanzania in which Tanzanian researchers shall work as partners. Also, one of the three people working in provenance at the Übersee-Museum in Bremen is from the region he is researching on: Ndzodo Awono (University Hamburg) from Cameroon, who has specialised on the history of the German colonial occupation of that area during his past studies. Eva Raabe (Weltkulturen Museum Frankfurt) discussed the difficulties of  working with sacred objects, in the presented case Churingas from the Aranda in central Australia. How to deal with the fact that from an indigenous perspective she as woman is not allowed to handle these things? Another way of enabling collaboration was presented by Trevor Isaac from the U’mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada. Issac presented the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN), an online database with the aim to facilitate reciprocal and collaborative research about cultural heritage from First Nations culture from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. The RRN contains more then 800,000 cultural items, held in 27 international institutions, which can be accessed for research, online discussions, and knowledge sharing.

During the panel on NS provenance research, facilitated by Andrea Bambi (Bavarian State Painting Collections), the invited speakers showed great interest in exchanging experiences with the attendees of this conference. They provided an overview of the most important steps towards the institutionalisation of NS provenance research, from the perspective of the Working Group on Provenance Research and tried to link their work with the challenges they see concerning ethnographic collections (Johanna Poltermann). Giving insights into their research methods, they also introduced the platform of the German Lost Art Foundation and how to work with its database (Claudia Andratschke, Lower Saxony State Museum and Provenance Research Network). A third presentation showed interconnections between NS related and ethnographic provenance research by talking about examples of provenance in collections in East Germany (Gilbert Lupfer, Dresden State Art Collections).

Surprisingly, these presentations evoked a lot of discontent among the audience of the conference. Objections were made that these two fields could not be compared with each other, although this had actually not been suggested by any of the speakers of the panel. It was astonishing to feel the emotional intensity with which people reacted. The organisers of the conference had to step in several times to defend the attempts of the NS provenance researchers to offer links to the ethnographic field. However, it can be hoped that this frail beginning of enabling linkages between these two research areas will be intensified in the near future.


Next to the axis of – quite literally – different view points from which one starts provenance research, another axis of difference was marked throughout the conference. Some referred to it as a kind of generational conflict or gap, although this is probably not a fully adequate description. On several occasions, objections were made as to whether the problems encountered and methods applied to confirm the provenance of specific things in the collections really were that new. Participants of the conference asserted that the determination of origin, meaning and context of the collections had always been at the core of the work done in ethnographic museums. Christian Feest´s presentation also addressed such issues by reporting on more than fifty years of working experience in the Völkerkundemuseum in Vienna (nowadays called Weltmuseum). Among other central aspects of successful provenance research, he emphasised the necessity of a reciprocal approach between institutions and ‘source communities’, the acknowledgment of different conceptions of things and their meaning for past and present as well as different forms of documentation.

A bottom line of the ‘former generation’ seemed to be that provenance research might be one of those terms with which academia tries to sell something long known as innovative. But during the discussions, one could not fully avoid hearing defensive and maybe also disappointed overtones in some speeches. Some seemed to sense a forgetfulness and maybe even ignorance in the way in which the ‘younger generation’ presented their approaches as having no predecessors.

During the open discussion following the morning session on the second day, Wiebke Ahrndt addressed this ‘generational gap’, inviting contributions from the panel and the audience as to what this difference between the approaches might be. Barbara Plankensteiner argued that it might not be a generational conflict that we witness but that there definitely had been significant changes in the way provenance research was conducted in museums. In her view, museums nowadays are less afraid. Less afraid of opening up their collections and make them accessible as archives, especially for people from regions where the collections are from. She senses less fear of having to return things, more engagement with different perspectives on the collections. Another main shift she pointed out lies in the way in which objects themselves are presented. Whereas until recently, every object was classically seen as just an ethnographic example of a specific ‘culture’, objects are now also on display as historic evidence or as the (previous) property of an individual person. Christian Feest pointed out that for him, provenance research had been a self-evident precondition of any exhibition, rather than something to be put on display itself. Earlier that day, Larissa Förster had hinted towards the capabilities of provenance research to actually help understand colonialism/s it/themselves – the different ways in which they played out in different geographical and historical settings. Maybe these contributions actually do implicate that there were different understandings of colonialism/s present at this conference, maybe the ‘generational gap’ does imply an epistemic shift.

Also on a more practical level, it seems reasonable to take these debates seriously. Indeed, findings of past research done within the respective institutions were not part of the presentations of recent projects. Questions of whether one could build upon such findings or maybe had to work against/rewrite them were not really addressed. Rather, in most cases the situation seemed to be one where researchers had to start from scratch: go through inventories, find pieces in museum storages, collect the little documentation available within the institution. However, intra-institutional histories of research long done and forgotten, of requests for information and returns from people outside answered or not, of contradictory opinions and actions of staff and different departments, of lost and found documentation, unknown files and drawers should maybe indeed be seen as part of the provenance research process – not only methodically and unmentioned, but even as part of the research results to be presented, for example at such conferences as the one in Munich. To acknowledge these histories, make them more transparent and work with them could become part of the current efforts to make collections more accessible. (If this is one of the aims).


Throughout the conference, questions of return and provenance research were sometimes discussed together, sometimes explicitly separated from each other. At one point during the open discussion following the international panel of the first evening, Wiebke Ahrndt, director of the Übersee-Museum in Bremen and vice president of the German Museum Association, intervened: She made a plea to stop confusing provenance research with returns. While this in itself might not be so surprising, her argumentation was remarkable: We should give up on the idea that museums today are afraid of giving things back. If there were arguments which made a return necessary, then this would be done and full stop. The naturalness with which she made this statement mirrors the prevailing atmosphere during these two days in Munich. It seemed as if there really was no question as to whether ethnographic museums had to engage in provenance research and therefore become more transparent institutions, or not. As if times in which these institutions acted behind closed doors, protecting themselves against ‘foreign’ intrusions were long past. Of course it was the selection of speakers as well as the theme and aims of the conference which made such an impression possible. Still it was exciting to witness.

Many questions remain open, and a few come to my mind. How will this new transparency influence the ways in which (permanent) exhibitions in ethnographic museums are conceived of and eventually presented; the ways in which research is done and who will do it; which will be the arguments which make returns appear necessary; which further forms of sharing knowledge, infrastructure, resources and collections will we see; how will questions of authority and possession be negotiated?

Provenance research is currently mostly done with third party funding and on a temporal basis (a problem that was also addressed during the conference), and by scholars socialised in Germany, sometimes with short academic training on the regions the collections come from. It is difficult to say how many of these projects will actually lead to restructurings of the institutions they are hosted by, and how many will remain in drawers and flash drives, temporarily put aside or forgotten, until the next funding enables new starts. But the report of these two days should definitely not end on a pessimistic note. Maybe it should rather end with another recurrent theme. Whenever the conversations changed into a lament of obstacles – lack of resources, lack of information, contradictory claims to collections, dead end attempts of collaborations, to name just a few – Wayne Modest (Head of the Research Center for Material Culture at the National Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands) reminded everyone that people should rather focus on a horizon of possibilities. No matter how many unsolved cases and questions there are and remain: every step to a proper provenance, every return, every step towards opening up and sharing, is a step. And this conference has definitely helped in creating a better organised national and international network for working on these necessary transformations.


PS: In the same hall in which the conference was held, leaflets informed about the permanent exhibitions at Museum Fünf Kontinente. They include “Der Orient: Zum Staunen so nah”, “Indianer Südamerikas: Mythen, Tiere, Götterwesen” and “Indianer Nordamerikas: Sonnentanz und Bisonjagd”. // There were three microphones in a row on the table for the panel discussions. They were black, red and yellow, in that order.

Invaders? Migrants? Refugees?

The Migration Museum in Adelaide and its diverse communities: “Reasons to Remember” in solidarity through difference

Since 2012, Western Europe has had to reflect on its openness towards newcomers. Some political leaders have capitalized on the influx of refugees to praise the model of a modern secular state with Christian morals, and called for a protection of national security against non-Christian dwellers. Others have advocated for more welcoming policies, still without questioning the concept of borders and citizenship. In the public sphere, many have also expressed their solidarity to displaced people, often reminding that some populations within Europe were also forced to flee and relocate, like the Jews during the Nazi Reich, or German settlers in Poland after the Second World War, to name just two.

On the other side of the planet, in Australia, recent migration movements have also stirred political responses: the federal government has engaged into forceful upstream campaigns at home and abroad to dissuade people intending to enter the country. At the same time, the Australian foreign policy and its military violently keep refugees at bay by interning them in offshore camps located on surrounding islands or even on foreign territories like Papua New Guinea. Yet, Australia has been a country of arrival for many different communities during its modern history.

Entrance to Migration Museum; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

Museums are sometimes seen as old institutions, displaying dusty objects that only interest a selected few. However, they do have an important societal function, as they often present debates and help shape public opinion on contested issues. The Migration Museum in Adelaide, and its take on migration, proves an interesting point in case. It reminds us of all the different contexts presented above and proposes a multidirectional perspective on migration and settlement. In the following, I will explore in more detail how this is done and what kind of trajectories are drawn between different experiences of displacement and oppression.

Who is a migrant?

Comparing experiences of migration and exile is productive for a broader understanding of a world of borders that affects many different communities in different ways. It also helps reflect upon the use of certain wordings. Take the word ‘refugee’ for example: in 2009, it was used by journalists for internally displaced US Americans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and taken as an insult by many of those who had to leave their homes. They argued that this denomination sounded as if they were not full US citizens. In Germany, ‘Flüchtling’ (refugee) is largely used in mainstream media, while many NGO activists more often opt for ‘Geflüchtete’ (the one who fled), arguing that the suffix -ling might infantilize the concerned individuals. Finally, a stark distinction in European political discourses is still made between “refugees” and “migrants,” allowing arbitrary deportations of those who flee from non-statist violence, corrupted regimes, dire living conditions or poverty.

It is with a look at this problematic terminology that the Adelaide Migration Museum begins its informative panels: “We have many words to describe those who leave one country to live in another. Emigrants are those who have homelands, immigrants are those who have newly arrived. We also speak of colonists and pioneers who came in the first years of the new colony. Settlers are immigrants who ‘settle down’ and establish themselves in their new country. For Aboriginal peoples, all the newcomers were invaders who took their lands. The word we use depends on the story we tell and who is telling the story. There are many stories, many objects and many voices in this gallery.” The museum thus enables visitors to understand from the beginning, that each term implies a slanted perspective on history, and that the museum has allowed different perspectives to find their place in telling stories of migration to the Australian continent.

Invasion/Migration: “(a)salt waves” and “aggrocultural advances”

In the so-called settler colonies like the USA, Canada, Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand, the histories of pristine “settlers” have indeed acted as bulwarks for the mythical births of those nations. Too often have Indigenous peoples been relegated to the status of natural beings, justifying the exploitation of their lands, genocidal policies and segregationist fencing. The entrance hall of this museum features a serial work of art by Darryl Pfitzner Milika. Seven of his paintings capture watersheds of the invasion of Australia by White settlers: after the “(a)salt waves” and the “aggrocultural advances”, Aboriginal Australians have had to suffer from nuclear tests in the bush, the stealing of their children, and continuous discrimination. On the opposite wall, the map of Aboriginal Australia issued by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies reminds of the actual diversity of languages and cultures of Indigenous Australians despite the flattening of all those differences under one English word: “Aboriginal.” The map also pictures the voyages undertaken by James Cook, Abel Tasman, Matthew Flinders and others as arrows approaching the shores of the continent, refusing the narratives of “discovery” whose maps had pictured Australia as Terra Nullius,[1] bare of borders and peoples (see image).

Map of Aboriginal Australia (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

There is still strong resistance from Australian descendants of Europeans to critically engage with their history as ‘invaders’ – let alone as ‘settlers.’ In politics and mainstream culture, ‘invasion,’ ‘discrimination,’ ‘genocide’ and ‘disenfranchisement’ are terms that are still rarely used when telling the history of the country. Less than a hundred metres away from the Migration Museum, the neighbouring State Library and its pompous Morlock wing still presents a myth of the “discovery” of the Australian continent by European ships, a viewpoint on history that is still largely taught in schools as well. In this regard, the Migration Museum offers a more refreshing stance on the history of settlement in Australia.

Dictation tests in Hungarian for immigrants to Australia

Later, those settler colonies like Australia have also experienced incoming populations. These newcomers – no less “new” than what settlers were a few centuries earlier – have in turn been victims of racist policies of restricted naturalisation, as well as discrimination for being non-British dwellers. Later in the gallery, the era of the White Australia Policy (1901-1973) is addressed. The museum shows the similarities in status between non-White settlers and Indigenous people, reminding that “some British subjects, such as those from India, Ceylon or Fiji, were thought to be ‘aliens’. The Naturalization Act of 1903 stated that no ‘aboriginal native of Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific, excepting New Zealand’ could be naturalized. Southern Europeans too were considered less desirable immigrants and in the 1920s Australian authorities limited the entry of people from Malta, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Albania.”

“White Australia Walk”; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

To illustrate this racist policy, museum visitors are invited to experience this discrimination at the border by putting themselves into the shoes of twentieth century immigrants with different backgrounds and taking the “White Australia Walk” (see image). The enforcement of the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901 imposed arbitrary language tests to immigrants that could “exclude anyone whom immigration officials thought unsuitable.” The dictation tests given to an individual could indeed be in any European language. With that absurd (but devilishly efficient) method, an immigrant from Japan could be given a test to prove his/her non-existing skills in Hungarian, and be accordingly refused entry into the territory, or deported. This test was used up until 1958. Faced with many of those dead-ends, visitors are invited to reflect upon the unabashed mechanisms of discriminative power at the border. Even if the interactivity proposed by this “game” is limited and quite simplistic, the idea of translating the frustrating experience of migrants through role-playing relies upon feelings of empathy that might contribute to raising awareness on the racist delimitation of the Australian nation at its margins. In a similar vein, the BBC (“Syrian Journey”) and the UNHCR (“Against All Odds”) have also used the format of so-called ‘serious games’ to point at the barriers of Fortress Europe that refugees from Syria are facing.

While non-British immigrants could not obtain the status of citizens of Australia, Aboriginal people also continued to be cast out, and had to wait until 1965 to be able to vote in all federal states. In the first part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, I was also puzzled by the fact that graphs showing the partition of the Australian population in ethnic or linguistic groups did not feature any information on the number of Aboriginal people in the population. This absence was explained later: only in 1967 did a change in the constitution enable the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the census; a late, but important recognition of their citizenship in their own land.

A participatory museum

Up until the end of the twentieth century, museums allocated little room for minority groups to express their particular perspectives. These quintessentially European institutions provided one perspective only: they mostly praised the achievements of white men of science who, despite their achievements in the quest for knowledge, also perpetuated clear-cut oppositions: ever since the Enlightenment, the perspective of rational, modern Europe would generally exoticize foreign nations, and/or relegate them to the realm of nature, to a backward past, which was especially the case for Indigenous peoples and women from the Global South.

Entrance to the Community Space; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

Recently though, some museums have discovered that they inhabit spaces where multiple communities coexist, and that these communities have a say when it comes to occupying the public sphere. The Migration Museum is a “participatory museum,” the director, Mandy Paul, asserts. “It is embedded in durable work with communities at its core, and it is normal practice for us ever since the beginning” (the museum was founded in 1986). A community space is indeed left at disposition for community-based exhibitions. Unfortunately, “the sole statement that the forum is open mostly attracts nostalgic, fairly homogeneous and structured groups who do not thoroughly engage in questioning their own identity,” Mandy Paul observes. As a result, the museum has now decided to proactively reach out to other communities that did not or could not present an exhibition of their own. All in all, those special community-based exhibitions have been largely contributions from members of particular linguistic, national or religious groups in South Australia, such as, for instance, Russians, Latvians, South Bhutanese people, or Muslim women. But the museum also recently hosted an exhibition on the local LGBTQ community, thus addressing ‘diversity’ in its full sense, not only referring to a given region of origin, but considering broader dimensions of the term regarding gender and sexual preferences. This reminds us that museums also bear a social responsibility in the public sphere: by engaging with diverse local communities, opening up their space to different voices, and integrating diverse views on race, class, gender, religion and identity, museums can question normative frameworks and, as cultural institutions, act for social cohesion by promoting diversity.

Eighteen memorial plaques

The reality of cosmopolitan metropolises like Sydney or Melbourne, and the increasing number of foreign students enrolling in Australian universities shows that, despite great efforts to limit immigration, the Australian population[2] grows more and more diverse. Confronted with multiple audiences, the Migration Museum in Adelaide has taken on the task of addressing them. It confronts and remembers a generally racist history of white domination in a multidirectional way. Multidirectional memory designates forms of collective memory that express solidarity with different histories of oppression instead of competition.[3] Groups that only wish for the prevalence of certain traumatic histories over others operate in forms of memory that are, in the long run, counter-productive, because they often tend to sacralise a given history while belittling other contexts. Emphasizing difference and solidarity rather helps all kinds of populations to talk about their past in relation to each other.

Memorial Plaques at Museum entrance; (c) Yann LeGall 2017

The entrance yard of the Migration Museum proposes an example of this kind of multidirectionality: on the wall eighteen memorial plaques are displayed. Each refers to a singular context of persecution that has forced populations into exile. Jews, Palestinians, Istrian Italians, Donauschwaben, Bosnians, Croatians, Serbs, Pontic Greeks, Slovenes, Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Tatars and Bashkurts, Vietnamese and Filippinos, victims of the British child migration schemes and victims of the Armenian genocide, are all remembered next to each other.

Detail of Memorial Plaques; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

The Museum’s explanatory plaque reads: “Many of our immigrants were forced to leave their homelands and seek refuge in Australia. The Migration Museum wishes to thank those who […] have shared their Reasons to Remember.” The presence of those different – but sometimes related or even entangled – histories of exile can be criticized for flattening scales of importance and suppressing the significance of numbers. At the same time, this helps shedding light upon the actual weight of exile in individual and collective (familial) experience. It also points at various governments that have compelled people to leave their homes, some committing crimes against humanity, some simply enforcing discriminatory policies.

Acknowledgement to the Kaurna People; (c) Sarah Fründt 2017

The interior of the museum shows that emigrating to Australia and settling down there has never been easy. It also addresses the suffering of Aboriginal Australians under European-Australian rule. Outside, those memorial plaques occupy a space that stresses both the similarities and the differences between those histories of migration. Next to this wall stands an acknowledgement to the Kaurna people, the local Aboriginal community and rightful owners of the land. Visiting the Migration Museum and experiencing its community-based approach is edifying: not only do multiple histories of oppression and exile start to appear connected; our awareness on continuous strategies of exclusion, deportation and discrimination is raised.

[1]      In Latin: “nobody’s land.”

[2]      Here I refer to people living on the Australian continent, not Australian citizens.

[3]      See Michael Rothberg, (2009). Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, Stanford University Press; (2011); and from the same author, “From Gaza to Warsaw: Mapping Multidirectional Memory,” Criticism 53:4 (Fall 2011), 523–548.

Ausprobiert: Die neue App des Museums für Völkerkunde in Hamburg

“Koloniale Hintergründe” im Hamburger Museum für Völkerkunde

Seit Juli 2016 besitzt das Hamburger Museum für Völkerkunde eine App mit der sich zwei thematische Rundgänge herunterladen lassen. Jeder Rundgang besteht aus zwei Teilen, die sich jeweils auf das Erd- bzw. Obergeschoß des Museums beziehen. Das erste Thema lautet „Koloniale Hintergründe: Das Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg“ und ist der eigentliche Gegenstand dieser Rezension. Der Rundgang geht zurück auf das Kooperationsprojekt „Kolonialismus und Museum“ zwischen dem Museum und der Universität Hamburg, in dessen Verlauf sich Studierende zwischen dem Sommersemester 2014 und dem Wintersemester 2014/15 mit den kolonialgeschichtlichen Hintergründen des Museums und seiner Sammlungen befassten (mehr dazu hier).

Quelle: Pressetext des Museums für Völkerkunde Hamburg
Quelle: Pressetext des Museums für Völkerkunde Hamburg

Das zweite Thema sei hier der Vollständigkeit halber kurz angerissen: unter dem Titel „Bemerkenswerte Dinge“ werden insgesamt 29 besondere Objekte aus allen Regionen, Zeitstufen, und unterschiedlichen thematischen Zusammenhängen mit kurzen Texten präsentiert. Dabei wird kein Schwerpunkt auf die Kolonialzeit oder auch nur die Erwerbsumstände gelegt – stattdessen handelt es sich mehr oder weniger um ausführliche, aber dennoch eher klassische Objekttexte. Eine Leerstelle, die im Verbund mit dem Rundgang zu den kolonialen Hintergründen etwas verwunderlich wirkt – zumal einige der Sammler wie Leo Frobenius oder die Firma Umlauff in beiden Rundgängen eine Rolle spielen.

Die App lässt sich kostenfrei im Google Play Store herunterladen. Sichtbar sind dann die vier Rundgangsteile mit jeweils kurzen Erläuterungen, die sich dann wiederum einzeln installieren lassen. Anschließend kann man die App auch offline benutzen – sicherlich ein großer Vorteil. Die Bedienoberfläche ist sehr intuitiv gestaltet und verwirrt nicht: oben rechts gibt es ein Menü, in dem man jederzeit von Kapitel zu Kapitel bzw. im Falle von „Koloniale Hintergründe“ ins ausführliche Begriffsglossar „springen“ kann, ansonsten bewegt man sich über wischen (rechts zurück, links weiter) durch den jeweiligen Rundgang.

Warum eigentlich eine App? – Aufbau und Bedienbarkeit

Auch wenn die App einfach zu installieren und zu bedienen ist, ist der tatsächliche Aufbau eher enttäuschend, da das Potential digitaler Anwendungen in keinster Weise ausgeschöpft wird. Im Falle der „kolonialen Hintergründe“ besteht  der Rundgang lediglich aus einzelnen Texten, in der Regel ergänzt durch einzelne Objektabbildungen und Primärquellen. Letztere können vergrößert werden um auch Details zu studieren, was bei einer Nutzung auf dem Bildschirm eines Smartphones mehr als  hilfreich ist. Noch besser funktioniert es auf dem Tablet. Allerdings bleibt grundsätzlich die Frage offen, warum für diesen Rundgang eine App nötig ist. Möglichkeiten, wie beispielsweise auch Audio- oder Videoquellen einzubinden, weiterführende Internetquellen zu verlinken, Nutzer*innen zumindest eine gewisse Interaktivität zu erlauben (z.B. bei Interesse an bestimmten Themen zusätzliche Quellen ansehen zu können, die nicht zum eigentlichen Rundgang gehören) – oder sich den Text auch vorlesen zu lassen, wenn sie nicht den ganzen Museumsbesuch auf den Bildschirm starren wollen, wurden nicht genutzt.

Ein Beispiel zur Veranschaulichung: In einem Abschnitt berichtet der Rundgang über die Geschichte der Völkerschauen und erwähnt dabei, dass einer der Teilnehmer, Abraham Ulrikab, in seinem Tagebuch über die von ihm erlebten Strapazen Zeugnis ablegte. Das klingt interessant und unwillkürlich sucht man an dieser Stelle einen Link zu dem Tagebuch oder zumindest einen längeren Auszug daraus – stattdessen kommen nur ein paar Bilder von Ulrikab und den anderen Teilnehmern sowie eine Abbildung von Hundeschneeschuhen, die zur Ausstattung der Schau gehörten, derzeit im Museum aber nicht zu sehen sind. Es ist nicht der einzige Moment, an dem eine solche Chance verschenkt wird. Dies ist besonders schade, da in einem anderen Teil des Rundgangs unter dem Titel „Annäherung an ‚andere‘ Perspektiven“ beklagt wird, dass „noch heute […] die Darstellung des europäischen Kolonialismus und seiner Auswirkungen überwiegend aus der Perspektive der ehemaligen Kolonialmächte [erfolge]“ und die „Wahrnehmung und Einschätzung der kolonialen Situation“ durch die Kolonialisierten, ihre Handlungsspielräume und tatsächlichen Handlungen, kurz ihrer Betrachtung als wichtige Akteure, vernachlässigt werde. Warum also nicht das Tagebuch in den Mittelpunkt stellen – statt die von Deutschen aufgenommenen Fotos der Teilnehmer?

Wichtige Begriffe wie Anthropologie, Kolonialismus oder Schutzgebiet sind im Text zwar fett gedruckt und werden auch im zur Verfügung gestellten Glossar umfassend erläutert – allerdings existiert kein direkter Link zwischen beiden, so dass man aus dem Rundgang ins Glossar wechseln, und dann händisch das entsprechende Wort suchen muss (diese Verbindung wird übrigens auch nirgendwo erwähnt, man könnte den Fettdruck also auch einfach für ein stilistisches Element halten).

Damit erlaubt die App eigentlich nichts, was nicht auch ein kleiner gedruckter Führer ermöglicht hätte. Warum also eine App?

Ein begehbares Lexikon? – Inhaltlicher Überblick

Inhaltlich bieten die beiden Teile des Rundgangs – wie der Titel verspricht – einen Überblick über die kolonialen Hintergründe des Museums. Es geht um Themen wie koloniale Begeisterung (auch noch zur NS-Zeit), Völkerschauen, das Sammeln von Objekten in kolonialen Zusammenhängen, Prozesse des Otherings, menschliche Überreste und sakrale Gegenstände, bedeutende Personen des Hauses, koloniale Verbrechen in Namibia und vieles mehr. Wenn möglich werden diese Themen mit einzelnen derzeit ausgestellten Objekten des Hauses verbunden (insgesamt 21) oder zumindest mit Primärquellen, von denen sich viele vermutlich ebenfalls in den Archiven des Hauses befinden. All diese Themen sind groß und umfassend – und können leider in diesem Format nur kurz angerissen werden. Die einzelnen Texte sind sehr kurz und knapp (ca. 100 Worte) und geben daher wenig Erläuterungen. Der Stil ist außerdem sehr nüchtern und dadurch weder emotional ansprechend – noch über ein paar Schlagworte und Zusammenfassungen hinaus informativ. Mehr Informationen gibt es im Glossar, allerdings ist das Hin- und Herspringen durch die fehlende Verknüpfung eher mühsam und kaum ein/e Nutzer*in wird diese Möglichkeit wohl ausführlich nutzen. Auch ist die Verbindung zwischen den Themen nicht immer gut geglückt – ein wirklicher Rundgang entsteht dadurch eigentlich nicht, stattdessen bleiben die einzelnen Kapitelchen eher losgelöst (bzw. im besten Fall vage miteinander verbunden) nebeneinander stehen wie Lexikoneinträge. Das erstreckt sich im Übrigen auch auf die thematisierten Objekte – sie sind im ganzen Haus verteilt und erscheinen zumindest auf den ersten Blick eher willkürlich ausgewählt (tatsächlich ist die Auswahl vermutlich sehr bewusst erfolgt, allerdings werden die Kriterien an keiner Stelle erläutert). Gefunden werden müssen sie mithilfe eines Raumlayouts auf dem Bildschirm, auf dem ihr Standort markiert ist. Das setzt zwar ein gewisses Raumgefühl voraus, ist aber dennoch zu meistern – allerdings wäre es vielleicht nicht schlecht, die Objekte zusätzlich noch mit einem Symbol zu versehen. Dann allerdings entfiele das leicht detektivische Aufspüren, das durchaus einen gewissen Charme besitzt. Wollte man jedoch einen normalen Rundgang durch die Ausstellung machen, in der man sich nicht nur auf die „Jagd nach den App-Objekten“ begibt, sondern auch andere Informationen und Objekte betrachtet, fehlte der Hinweis, der einen während dieser Betrachtung daran erinnert, dass auch noch zusätzliche Informationen und Hintergründe zu bestimmten Gegenständen vorliegen.

Und der Weisheit letzter Schluss? – Eine abschließende Bewertung

Trotz der angemerkten Kritikpunkte würde ich die App bzw. den Rundgang zu „Kolonialen Hintergründen“ mit mindestens drei von fünf Sternen bewerten. Er bietet einen guten Einstieg in die Thematik und erlaubt es, das Museum und seine Objekte mit anderen Augen zu sehen und aus anderen Perspektiven zu betrachten. Viele Aspekte werden zumindest angerissen und auch die vielen Primärquellen sind faszinierend und regen zu einer weiteren Beschäftigung mit den Themen an. Um dies weiter zu unterstützen, wäre es eine gute Idee, zusätzlich zu den Quellenangaben am Ende auch einführende Literatur oder Überblickswerke anzugeben, in denen sich der/die Nutzer*in der App später weiter informieren kann.

Die größte Bedeutung liegt jedoch sicherlich in der Tatsache, dass es diesen Rundgang überhaupt gibt: in der Vergangenheit haben sich viele ethnologische Museen sehr schwer mit der Aufarbeitung ihrer Geschichte und der Herkunft ihrer Sammlungen getan. Erst in jüngster Zeit kommt Bewegung in die Debatte. Durch dieses Projekt hat das Museum in Hamburg Position bezogen und ist mit einer schwierigen Thematik an die Öffentlichkeit getreten. Dies erlaubt es jedem, sich mit der Geschichte des Hauses zu beschäftigen – auch wenn man nicht im Museum ist, da man die App theoretisch an jedem Ort der Welt nutzen kann, und die Texte und Objektabbildungen einem auch dann einen ausreichenden Überblick geben würden. Diese Transparenz ist auf jeden Fall zu begrüßen und ein gutes Ergebnis eines solchen kooperativen Projekts. Es bleibt zu hoffen, dass es in Zukunft möglich sein wird, die App noch weiter auszubauen und dann auch die digitalen Möglichkeiten besser auszuschöpfen – oder auch, die Informationen zusätzlich auf Englisch oder in anderen Sprachen zur Verfügung zu stellen. Ein vielversprechender Anfang ist auf jeden Fall gemacht – und ich würde jedem raten, die App selbst auszuprobieren und sich ein eigenes Bild zu machen!

P.S. Die Rundgänge gibt es übrigens auch als virtuelle Ausstellungen. Hier lassen sich auch die Bilder und Originalquellen besser betrachten.

Ankündigung: museOn forscht

Ankündigung: Tagung

Am 25. und 26. Februar 2016 veranstaltet museOn, die Akademie für wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung im Bereich Museum in Freiburg, eine Tagung zum Thema “museOn forscht Museen und Universitäten – Orte des Wissens im Austauschstatt. 

“Die beiden Institutionen Universitäten und Museen werden als Wissenschaftseinrichtungen in Hinblick auf ihre Funktionen für die museale Arbeit hinterfragt:
Wie arbeiten verschiedene Einrichtungen zusammen? Wer forscht mit wem? Wer forscht für wen? Wie nutzen Museen und andere Kulturinstitutionen Grundlagenforschung und technische Innovation für ihre Infrastruktur? Wie entstehen aus der Museumspraxis neue Forschungsprogramme an Universitäten?” 
(Quelle: Ausstellungsankündigung). 

Die Teilnahme ist kostenlos, jedoch wird um eine vorherige Anmeldung gebeten. Weitere Informationen unter: