First Principles by Michael Pickering

Panel: Hidden Objects - Sensitive and Restricted Objects in Museum Collections. Issues Surrounding their Storage, Access, Consultations, and Potential Repatriation

Wednesday, 23 June, 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. (CET)


The ethnographic collection of the German Institute of Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture has a long and eventful history, which is closely linked to the German Colonial School. This school was founded in 1898 and trained young men as tropical and colonial farmers in Witzenhausen from 1899 to 1944.
In the context of the school, an ethnographic collection was established from 1901 onwards, which was fed by object donations from graduates from the German colonies of the time and other non-European areas. This collection was steadily expanded and in the 1970s was ceded by the successor institution, the German Institute of Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (DITSL), to the Ethnological Museum Witzenhausen on permanent loan. In the museum, established as a foundation and supported by the DITSL and the town of Witzenhausen, the collection was looked after on a voluntary basis and thus, from today's perspective, non-professionally.
Several challenges for provenance research arise from this special history of the collection. In addition to heterogeneous object groups, the voluntary, non-professional care of the collection led to undocumented object losses and missing or incorrect information about the objects or the collection.
Accordingly, the presentation will use several case studies from the collection to shed light on these problems and present possible solutions from practical provenance research.


2015-2020: Studied ethnology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, graduated with a Master of Arts degree.

Since October 2020: PhD student & scientific volunteer at the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe. Topic of the PhD: „The ethnographic collection of the Badische Landesmuseum from 1875 until today“.

Research interests include ethnographic collections & their (post)colonial history, memory culture, and museum ethnology.

Among other projects, he worked on the exhibition "Posted! Reflections of Indigenous North America" at the Weltkulturenmuseum Frankfurt as a student co-curator.  Otherwise, he has published on the ethnographic collections of the natural history department of Museum Wiesbaden and on the ethnographic collection of the German Institute of Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture Witzenhausen.