Finding Shards and Pieces – Traces of the Sepik-Expedition in Institutions of the Global North by Sara Müller

Panel: 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)


In 1912 and 1913 an expedition from Germany was sent to conduct scientific research along the Sepik river in the north of today’s Papua-New-Guinea. With more than 200 crewmembers, this expedition was one of the biggest that ever travelled the Sepik. At the end of this expedition, the crew sent back to Germany a vast collection of photographs, phonographic recordings, anthropological studies, vocabularies and animals, specimens of plants and minerals and more than 4,000 ethnographic objects. In 1939 the Ethnographic Collection of the University of Göttingen received seventeen of those objects as part of a donation from the Ethnological Museum in Berlin (the former Museum für Völkerkunde).

By looking at those seventeen objects exclusively, this paper wants to give an insight on how to answer questions like: What is the biography of the objects? Which people need to be looked at more closely in connection with the objects? What economic role do the objects play? And what connections do the objects have to German colonialism?
By doing so, it focuses on an intensive and comprehensive research of various documents in different institutions of the Global North. On the one hand, disciplinary, institutional and national boundaries have to be crossed to find answers. On the other hand, this approach delves deep into the subsoil of those institutions that hold different kinds of source material.


Sara Müller studied political science and history at the Georg-August-University Göttingen. She has been working as a research assistant at the Department of Modern History at the University of Göttingen since October 2018. Her PhD-Project is part of the joint research project “Provenance Research on Non-European Collections and Ethnology in Lower Saxony” (PAESE). In this context, she works closely with the ethnographic collection at the University of Göttingen. Within her doctoral research, she focuses on the reconstruction of trade routes and networks between Germany and its former colony German-New Guinea, todays Papua New Guinea.

Sara Müller is an associated member of the Volkswagen-Research-College “Wissen Ausstellen” located at the University of Göttingen.

Her research focusses on German colonial history, history of ethnographic collections and museums and (post-) colonial provenance research.

Sara Müller

University of Göttingen

Member of the PAESE-project