Systemizing Provenance Research on Objects from Colonial Contexts

Gesa Grimme


The recent debates surrounding the establishment of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin have given rise to questions of how to address the colonial histories of the often large collections housed in Germany’s ethnographic museums. So far, research into the colonial background of these collections focussed mostly on exemplary case studies, on specific objects or donators. As a step towards a more systematic mode of provenance research, this paper proposes to survey collections from former colonial territories as a whole by asking when did the objects arrive and what persons donated or sold them to the museum. Based on the results of the project Discomforting Heritage: Objects from Colonial Contexts in Anthropological Museums, the article details how this approach addresses the collections’ interconnectness with colonial structures, provides a foundation for a more planed, pro-active handling of these collections and lays important groundwork for the respectful sharing of information with stakeholder communities.


museum studies; colonial history; ethnographic collections; provenance research

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Copyright (c) 2020 Gesa Grimme

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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