Colonial Collecting Practices in Military Contexts - Study of the Ethnological Collections in the State Museum of Nature and Man Oldenburg

The PAESE project at the State Museum for Nature and Man Oldenburg investigates the origin – the provenance – and the circumstances of acquisition of ethnological objects from colonial contexts. The focus is on objects from former German colonial areas, as they form the main part of the colonial contexts from which the objects in the State Museum originate. This results in a regional focus on today's countries Tanzania, Cameroon and Papua New Guinea.

One focus of the Oldenburg sub-project is the collection of the Langheld brothers (Wilhelm, Johannes and Friedrich, created in the period between 1889 and 1901). The State Museum for Nature and Man Oldenburg has more than 1,000 objects from this collection (mainly everyday and utility items, as well as weapons). The Oldenburg part of the collection consists primarily of objects from the territory of present-day Tanzania. Objects in the collection are ceramics, wickerwork, weapons, jewellery, clothing, pipes, figurative representations, and vessels made of various materials. On the basis of the Langheld brothers' collection, the spectrum of acquisition and collection circumstances in colonial contexts (gift, robbery, purchase) can be examined and demonstrated. The examination of the collectors' biographies and the analysis of the concrete collection contexts and circumstances should provide a first approximation of the perceptions, thought patterns, and attitudes of the collectors, which in an exemplary fashion allow conclusions to be drawn about the motivation and attitude of collectors towards the objects and people in their contexts of origin. Connected with this is the question of the extent to which unjust contexts can be reconstructed from this.

The respective objects from colonial contexts are examined for their provenance and comprehensively digitized. New methods of 3D digitisation will also be tested. The aim is to generate a transparent overview of the Oldenburg holdings and to link the results of provenance research with these digital holdings. The results are to be made available to researchers worldwide via the project database.

The State Museum for Nature and Man Oldenburg is committed to a dialogical, transparent and open-ended exchange with members of the societies of origin. The aim is an open approach to the colonial past of the State Museum and a cooperation with the societies of origin, which will provide trend-setting impulses for further work with (and about) the ethnological collections from colonial contexts.



The project "The Colonial Collections of Oldenburg" expired in december of 2021. Please direct project-related enquiries to the head of the sub-project Ursula Warnke.


Researcher: Jennifer Tadge (State Museum Natur und Mensch Oldenburg)

Head of the Subproject: Dr. Ursula Warnke (State Museum Natur und Mensch Oldenburg)

Academic Advisor: Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist (Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Institute of History)