Dialogues between Theory and Practice Theoretical Approaches and Case Studies of Postcolonial Provenance Research

Monday, 21 June 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. (CET)

Postcolonial provenance research engages different disciplines and theoretical influences such as anthropology, history and postcolonial studies and involves public debates about restitution as well as addressing the colonial past. The challenges include making the voices of producers, sellers, previous owners and other participants audible while working with various source genres such as written documents, oral history or material culture. How do we close gaps in the records of acquisition contexts, how do we deal with the lack of contemporary witnesses, different time layers or the unequal socio-cultural contexts between today's place of repository and the original place of use?

Important aspects of the research include the social, cultural, economic, political and normative circumstances of the object appropriations in the colonial context. What kind of agency did local people have in the acquisition contexts and how can historical events be reconstructed? Can the analysis of the change in meaning of the objects through their musealisation contribute to the reappraisal of the museums' colonial past, and if so, to what extent? What meanings are attributed to the objects by people in the societies of origin? What conclusions can be made about the future handling and destination of these objects? What influence do the researchers have in the research process? The aims are to deal productively with the challenges of postcolonial provenance research and to overcome - or at least decentralise - the Eurocentric perspective.

Case studies will be used to present research results obtained with the help of different or combined approaches and methods. In addition, representatives from their respective disciplines will contribute different theoretical perspectives. Together, they will discuss the contribution of ethnographic research, cultural studies concepts, postcolonial studies, oral history or other approaches to postcolonial provenance research.


Chair: Brigitte Reinwald, Professor of African History at the Department of History of Leibniz University Hannover

Comments by Alexis Th. von Poser, Deputy Director of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art in Berlin and by Oswald Masebo, Senior Lecture in History, Department of History, University Dar-es-Salaam/Tanzania.