"3-road-strategy" on the documentation and digital publication of collections from colonial contexts held in Germany" – Link Collection

In addition to creating a central access to collections which have already been published digitally by integrating existing relevant data sets into the German Digital Library (Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, DBB), the implementation of “Road 1: Access” of the “3-road strategy on the documentation and digital publication of collections from colonial contexts held in Germany” (the “3-road strategy”) foresees compiling a curated and annotated list collection of relevant online resources. In the short term, the following link collection is intended to provide an overview of the institutions in Germany that have digitally published collections from colonial contexts on their own websites. It will particularly grant people from countries and societies of origin an immediate opportunity to acquaint themselves with data and collections in Germany that have already been published digitally. Within the field of action “Transparency and Documentation” of the “Framework Principles for Dealing with Collections from Colonial Contexts,” the publication of this link collection will also make an important contribution to creating transparency.

On this website, you will find a list of webpages containing information about collections from colonial contexts at the institutions participating in the pilot phase of the “3-road strategy”. This web page will be updated regularly and information on additional institutions will be included.


Since December 2020, Collections Online has offered virtual access to the holdings of the Linden Museum in Stuttgart. It presents detailed information, stories and context surrounding the objects and clarifies the methods and results of provenance research. 

This presentation and communication platform, initially available in German and English, caters to diverse groups of users, promoting dialogue with scientists and representatives of various societies of origins as well as with the city’s residents and an international audience. 

With Collections Online, the Linden Museum has also extended its concept of collaborative, polyphonic research, learning and communication from their everyday work into the digital sphere. In no small part, this virtual dialogue has the aim of gathering new knowledge about the objects and their contexts of origin, thus also laying the groundwork for addressing objects from colonial contexts transparently and responsibly.

As such, Collections Online is an essential element of the museum’s efforts to actively reappraise its (post-)colonial past. In this way, Collections Online complements and expands upon the project “LindenLAB: Provenance, Participation, Presentation”, which was financially supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes) and considers potential ways forward for the Linden Museum.

The digitisation of collection holdings, in addition to ensuring open access, also enables new digital forms of communication and mediation, for example in the form of “digitorials”, blogs or multimedia guides.

The first groups of objects was published in late 2020, with other parts of the collection to follow.

Collections Online was made possible by the Ministry of Science, Research and Art of Baden-Württemberg in the framework of the “Digital Paths to the Museum” (“Digitale Wege ins Museum”) funding programme.

The Freiburg Collection was established in 1857 by Alexander Ecker, who built on a collection of artefacts from the eighteenth century such as artefacts from de-consecrated cemeteries, artefacts from his colleagues, such as Beck and Haberer; and also purchases and received gifts. In 1862, he integrated the collection of Theodor Bilharz, and in 1864 he expanded his collection with crania of archaeological origin, from what are known as “row graves”. The year 1865 saw the printing of the first catalogue, and in 1867 a display collection was set up in the institute’s new building. In 1872, he was able to incorporate a collection from Heinrich Schreiber, which also largely originated from archaeological excavations in the Upper Rhine region.  

After a new edition of the printed catalogue, the collection stagnated somewhat until Eugen Fischer approached it once again with an intensified interest (based on a racial ideology). Evidently, he also undertook to reorganise and relabel the collection.

His departure for the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin was followed by another passive period for the collection. In 1917, the collection experienced major damage because the central wing of the Institute, which contained collection rooms and numerous artefacts, was destroyed by an aerial bombardment; this is primarily documented by photographic evidence. The gaps in the collection were replaced in the subsequent period; however, there is no surviving documentation of these losses and additions. 

In 1935, on orders from the state government of Baden, the private anthropological Gabriel von Max Collection, which included more than 400 artefacts (predominantly human skulls) and had been located in the Städische (Municipal) Reiß Museum since 1917, was merged into the Freiburg Collection. However, the merger was carried out incompletely; documents, objects and some of the skulls were left in Mannheim. After the Freiburg Collection was relocated elsewhere and the Institute was rebuilt after 1945, the collection was restructured during the 1950s. The archaeological artefacts of human origin from prehistoric and early historical eras were added to the collection. The anatomists who were the subsequent formal custodians of the collection had little interest in it. Not until 1985 was the collection inventoried again, by student assistants in handwritten form. In 2001, when the collection was acquired by the University Archive and the Uniseum, it was discovered that approximately 200 objects had gone missing; this must have occurred between 1986 and 2001. Over the course of processing the collection and through intensive investigations, several dozen of the objects were relocated as a result of activities by the University Archive and could be identified as among the missing items. In addition, two skulls were returned anonymously in the summer of 2019.

The Museum Fünf Kontinente offers digital access to its Photography Collection, which encompasses approximately 135,000 images in the form of glass plates, prints on paper, slides and photo albums. The collection’s earliest photographs are from 1870. Its most exceptional holdings include photographs from the ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg’s exhibitions to the Amazon Basin (1903–05 and 1911–13); Christine and Lucian Sherman’s research trip to Burma, India and Ceylon (1910–11), and Father Meinulf Küster’s journey to East Africa (1927–28). The “Online Photography Collection” (“Sammlung Fotografie online”) currently includes around 43,000 objects. The project is a work in progress, and the museum is continually adding new holdings. 

Within the framework of provenance research, the museum is reappraising the complex history of its collections and publishing inventory books up to 1959 on its website. The museum would like to make them available to researchers and the interested public as important historical sources that document object’s acquisition and share a view of our institution’s collection activities. Thus, acquisitions made in a colonial context or in the context of Nazi persecution can be independently researched and reviewed from anywhere in the world. 

Additional selected object holdings of the Museum Fünf Kontinente will soon be published online: over the course of 2021, a collection catalogue encompassing around 2,000 objects will go live and, as with the “Online Photography Collection”, be continually expanded from that point on.

The collection holdings within African studies at the University of Bayreuth are situated within various academic disciplines. As an umbrella institution consolidating all specifically African-related departments at the university, the Institute for African Studies supports their research and teaching. Thus, literary studies and linguistics are likewise linked to the research and collections of Africa Studies, as are religious studies, ethnology, art history and Bildwissenschaften, theatre, music and media studies.

Some of the bequeathed collections comprise large quantities of travel, documentary and portrait photography from colonial contexts. The earliest photographic documentations of research trips to eastern and south-western Africa date to 1933. Other image collections comprise photographs from teaching and research activities on the territories of today’s South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe from the 1930s to 1960s. In addition to the documentary images from the holdings, the digital collection also includes portrait and studio photographs from 1910 onwards that were taken in Nairobi in what was then “British East Africa”.  

The collection at the Iwalewahaus encompasses internationally reputed objects of modern and contemporary art as well as posters, photographs and supplementary documentation materials pertaining to research and to the history of exhibitions and individual objects. As well as African countries, India, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, among other countries, are listed as regions of origin for the very wide-ranging objects in the collection.

During the 1920s, illustrative works on paper were created in what was then the colony of the “Belgian Congo”. These are among the oldest works in the art collection. The collection also includes drawings by 12 patients at the Lantoro Mental Home in Abeokuta, Nigeria, created during the colonial area. This group of works by Abeokuta artists was created during the years 1951–52.  

The collections with a connection to Africa at the University of Bayreuth are available for digital access via collections@uni-bayreuth.de. The database is currently being prepared and is not yet freely searchable.

You can find further information about the Institute for Africa Studies and the Iwalewahaus at the University of Bayreuth as well as contact information for the collection’s curators at the following websites: 

The data portal of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (Berlin Museum of Natural History) is part of the implementation of the museum’s Zukunftsplan (master plan), which strives to permanently preserve and document the collection of more than 30 million objects as a framework of international research infrastructure. An open-access, digital/analog and internationally available collection infrastructure framework is being established, of which the data portal is a part. This aims to promote future knowledge-based debates about society’s future and the relationship between humans and nature. The data portal currently available online is a beta version; new content and features are continually being added. As of its initial launch in early 2021, the data portal already included more than 40,000 entries, which can now be publicly searched and used by all interested parties. The current features include, but are not limited to: downloading the digital media, searching by geographical search terms, searching by specific data fields, and searching by media type and collection.

Future features are planned that will facilitate searching for objects from colonial context, among other things. Objects with an identifiably colonial acquisition history will be flagged as such with the ability to filter for them accordingly. Metadata enhancements and links to collector biographies as well as historical species and place names are also planned. 

The museum’s content is not only available via its own data portal, however. For many years now, it has also been published in Europeana and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). 

As part of the “3-road strategy,” data on objects form colonial contexts will be provided to the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, DBB (German Digital Library). Apart from colonial contexts, we also plan to provide data via a sustainable channel to the DDB. Portions of the Animal Sound Archive are already available via the DDB.

The Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) evolved from the collections of the royal cabinets of art and has grown since its founding in 1873 to become one of the largest and most significant of its kind. Its collections include around 500,000 ethnographic, archaeological and cultural-historical objects from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. These are supplemented by around 500,000 media holdings (ethnographic photographs, films, and sound recordings) and around 200,000 pages of written documents. 

The Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is critically facing up to the legacy and the consequences of colonialism as well as the role and perspective of Europe. Reflecting on its own viewpoint, building partnerships with the societies of origin in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas should serve to expose one-sided Eurocentric viewpoints without eliding European connections. 

From the late summer of 2021, the Humboldt Forum will display permanent exhibitions by various stakeholders, including a presentation of the Ethnological Museum’s collection.

The history of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Asian Art Museum) can be traced back to the Brandenburgische Kunstkammer (Brandenburg Cabinet of Curiosities), the inventory of which already listed a few objects from today’s collection. The Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst (Museum of East Asian Art) was then founded in 1906, and was the first of its kind in Germany.

In 1963 the Museum für Indische Kunst (Museum of Indian Art) was established. It emerged out of the Indian department of the Museum für Völkerkunde (Musem of Ethnology), today Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum), which was founded in 1873. In December 2006, both collections were united to form the Museum für Asiatische Kunst. The unification of both museums was principally the result of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz’s (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) long-term plans to relocate its non-European collections from their current site in Dahlem to the Schlossplatz in Berlin-Mitte where they will be presented in the innovative framework of the Humboldt Forum. Together with the collections of occidental cultural artefacts on the Museumsinsel Berlin, the plans envisage the creation of a landscape of scholarship and learning of world renown and with a truly global reach.

From late summer 2021, the Humboldt Forum will host permanent exhibitions from a range of partner institutions, including the collection display of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst.

The Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg, SPSG (Foundation of Prussian Palaces and Gardens, Berlin-Brandenburg) has been publishing data about objects from its art collections on the online platform museum-digital since early 2018. On the platform, which is professionally advised by the Institut für Museumsforschung (Institute for Museum Research) in Berlin, the SPSG is currently represented with 1,100 objects from 13 collections (as of May 2021).

Entire collection areas or sets of thematically associated objects are presented in thematic portals grouped as “Topics”. Digital exhibitions of this type might combine objects of various themes, such as “Italy in Potsdam” and “The Great Elector”

In research collaborations with other cultural institutions, through presentation and scholarship, museum-digital also brings together objects in the same thematic portal that are physically dispersed among disparate institutions. In this vein, the SPSG is a participant in the projects “Berlin Timepieces” and “Brandenburg Glass”.

Available via museum-digital, but also directly on the homepage of the SPSG, are two comprehensively documented collections (online inventory catalogues) that have been published in full online on the VIKUS Viewer: the SPSG’s “Coins and Medallions” and “Drawings by Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia”. The objects, filtered using a thematic list of keywords as well as a timeline, are presented in an innovative visualisation that appeals to expert users but also, and especially, interested digital “flâneurs”.

Since 2015, approximately 23,000 photographs from the SPSG’s photo library have also been publicly accessible on the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library).

A large portion of the collections of the Übersee-Museum (Overseas Museum) in Bremen originated in colonial contexts. As a multidisciplinary institution, the museum has natural history collections, ethnographic collections, collections on the history of Bremen as a trading hub, and a very extensive Collection of Historical Photographs, which in some cases also document the collections’ contexts and are also closely associated with colonial contexts of collection. In addition, the museum has a library including a large amount of colonial literature and an archive of records on the institution’s history, which facilitate research into the contexts of collection. The history of the museum and its collections is described in the permanent exhibition “Tracking the Past”. The accompanying publication offers an introduction to the contexts and networks through which the collections came about.

The publication of the contexts of collection (documenting collectors, geographic metadata and provenance details) are an important task and challenge for interdisciplinary collection areas with their sometimes wide-ranging requirements for collection documentation. This requires linking collection information across sub-collections in order to meet the requirements of successful provenance research and to create transparency: an important concern for the Übersee-Museum, which is actively involved in professional networks and in discussions with its counterparts on these issues. 

The plan for “IT-assisted documentation of the storage holdings of the Übersee-Museum” began in the early 1990s, and even earlier for portions of the natural history collections. Various databases served as precursors to the current digital cataloguing process (Access, BISMAS at the University of Oldenburg, the database and Content Management System of InformationsGesellschaft in Bremen, dbase). Since 2012, ethnographic and trade studies collections as well as the Historical Image Archive have been catalogued using the TMS Collections Management System (initially TMS 2012, and now TMS 2018 since the most recent update). The 83,130 ethnographic objects are all digitally catalogued in the database with varying levels of documentation. In the trade studies department, nearly 4,900 of the roughly 30,000 objects have been catalogued in TMS 2018. For the Historical Image Archive, around 34,000 objects have been catalogued in the database, amounting to around two-thirds of the total holdings. Of the roughly 1 million natural history objects/organisms, 251,424 have been digitally catalogued, of which 2,755 (herbaria) include standardised digital images. There are plans to digitally catalogue further natural history objects in the framework of a project grant. 

  • Digitisation and the public usage of collection information are at the core of the Übersee-Museum’s digital strategy. Finding Aids for their File Archive via the Potsdam-based project “Archive Guide to the German Colonial Past
  • Inventory Books of their Collections that are no longer subject to laws for the protection of personal data are available to researchers as PDFs
  • A Sample Collection from the Historical Image Archive, private photographs by the Bremen businessman Theodor Laut, who was also active as a collector on behalf of the Übersee-Museum in colonial Hong Kong, were published in late 2019 as part of the Coding Da Vinci Hackathon
  • Most of the library’s 65,000 volumes, many of them acquired during the period of the museum’s founding, have been digitally catalogued; this catalogue is available online

The Digital Collection German Colonialism offers digital access to 1,088 monographs that were published in regard to German colonial discourses from 1884 to 1919 (a text corpus of 244,000 pages). These predominantly German-language titles, selected from the collection of the State and University Library Bremen (SuUB) and the University Library Johann Christian Senckenberg in Frankfurt am Main (UB Frankfurt), reflect the core period of German colonialism. The Digital Collection German Colonialism incorporates publications with a broad spectrum of content and subject matter and a geographic focus spanning the African and Pacific colonial territories of the German Empire.   

The Digital Collection German Colonialism emerged from a linguistically oriented research project on the aspects of communication history and linguistic usage within German colonialism. A prerequisite for data-driven research into German colonialism was the preparation of original colonial texts in research-appropriate formats that were not assembled arbitrarily and in dispersed locations, but made available as a coherent collection for the needs of postcolonial studies.

On the text selection: As a basis for generating a corpus relevant to scholarship, the Digital Collection of German Colonialism uses library collections assembled during the colonial period. The mainstays of the selection are the systematic book catalogue on Kolonialwesen (colonial affairs/studies, an academic discipline from the period) at the SuUB together with the initial collection of the library of the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (German Colonial Society), which the UB Frankfurt has inherited. This approach to corpus generation, oriented around principles from the time period (but following postcolonial approaches), thus avoids a Eurocentric perspective. 

The Digital Collection German Colonialism serves to facilitate systematic, integrative and interdisciplinary research, primarily of the nexus of German colonialism’s implications – in terms of history, culture, and communication history, and intellectual history – while bearing in mind postcolonial implications. By integrating their full text into the CLARIN-D research infrastructure of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, said institution was able to analyse and annotate them using a range of web-based tools from the digital humanities.

In 1871, the "Culturgeschichtliche Museum" (Cultural History Museum) was founded, building on the ethnographic collection of the Johanneum, a Hamburg grammar school. In 1879, it was renamed the Museum für Völkerkunde (Museum for Ethnology). In 1904, its first full-time director was appointed, Georg Thilenius (1868–1937), and in 1912 it obtained a dedicated building. In 2017, the major step of renaming it the “Museum am Rothenbaum: Kulturen und Künste der Welt“, MARKK (Museum am Rothenbaum: World Cultures and Arts) signified a long-awaited turning point and act of decolonising the museum. 

The museum collection consists of a nominal quantity of around 260,000 numbered objects from all parts of the world, including Europe and Germany. The precise number is currently being determined in a full inventory process; approximately a third is anticipated to been lost due to the Second World War. The precise number of objects originating from colonial contexts is unknown, but these are estimated to account for at least a third of the collection.

Numerous people from societies of origin as well as researchers and political activists desire a complete view of ethnographic museums’ holdings. To that end, in 2020 the MARKK published core sections of its collection database as lists on the museum website. 

The lists are grouped by region. They contain raw data and notes from various periods of the museum’s history. Many terms in the lists are now considered inappropriate, outdated or offensively racist, yet remain included in the lists for historical reasons. From the same reason, the lists also contain objects that are no longer entirely located in the museum today due to the effects of war, object exchanges, restitution or the deterioration of organic materials.

The museum’s database is continually revised and updated on the basis of research. Preparations for an online collection are currently under way.

Online Exhibitions on Google Arts & Culture: 

After the Economic Botany Collection (EBC) in Kew Gardens, London, Hamburg’s Applied Botany Collection (ABC) is the world’s second largest collection of economically and technologically significant plants (and plant parts). It encompasses around 45,000 objects, some of them more than 200 years old, in several sub-collections. The collection includes everything from tiny seeds to enormous fruits, influorescences and fibres; well-known and obscure medicinal plants; wood samples and rare phytopathological specimens. The German colonial period played a significant role in the origins of the collection. In particular, merchants from Hamburg had many contacts and outposts in these territories long before the official establishment of German colonies.

Approximately 10,000 objects in the collection originated in colonial contexts. Due to the highly diverse range of activities and widespread networks of the donors (who were scientists, companies, institutions, and professionals), nearly the entire colonial world is accounted for among their provenances. In regard to Africa, there is a preponderance of objects from the former German colonies of Togo, Cameroon, German Southwest Africa and German East Africa.

As with other colonial powers, one aim of German colonial policy and commerce in the colonies was to optimise the cultivation or alternative uses of plants that served as food or animal fodder, were of medical interest or could be harnessed as natural resources. These efforts partly relied on local plants that were already established in specific colonies; however, plants were also deliberately introduced from other parts of the world.

Generally, Europeans considered local botanical knowledge and indigenous forms of use and cultivation to be “unscientific” or even dismissed such knowledge and practices as harmful; they were only adopted insomuch as they served Europeans’ immediate interests. To this day, the effects of this ecological imperialism and early bio-piracy remain pervasive in the societies, cultures and natural environments of the countries of origin. Furthermore, despite all the international agreements, modern bio-prospecting has been suspected of repeating the past in a new, subtler guise.

We recognise great potential for cooperation and dialogue with representatives of the countries and societies of origin in order to break down Eurocentric presentation concepts and perspectives.

Philipps University of Marburg (UMR), founded in 1527, has more than thirty research and teaching collections as well as museums with their own exhibition programmes and archives. Some of the university’s collections include extensive holdings from colonial contexts, many of them from territories of formal colonial rule, in particular from Africa, Oceania and South America. Among other things, these include the collection of skulls and other human remains (Museum Anatomicum) and individual human remains (the Zoological Collection, the Ethnographic Collection, and the collection of the Museum of Religions), objects from day-to-day and religious contexts (in the Ethnographic Collection, and the collection of the Museum of Religions) and objects of natural history (particularly in the Zoological and Pharmacognostical Collections). For quite a while now, investigating objects from colonial contexts has been a focus of research and teaching projects at UMR as well as public lectures and scholarly discussions. The digitisation of collection holdings from colonial contexts is supported by the UMR-based Deutsches Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg (German Documentation Centre for Art History – Photo Marburg Image Archive), which is a partner in the project NFDI4Culture as part of the National Research Data Infrastructure initiative.

UMR’s Ethnographic Collection, established in the 1920s, includes objects from the Wiesbaden Collection of Nassau Antiquities, which sold its non-European collections in the 1960s. These are predominantly objects from the 19th century that colonial civil servants and officers gifted to the Wiesbaden Museum. The Ethnographic Collection also includes the scientific collections of Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872-1924), a scholar who studied South America. Between 800 and 1,000 objects are presumed to have originated from formal colonies, while another 2500 potentially originated from colonial contexts outside formal colonial rule. Together with the Ethnographic Collection of the Oberhessisches Museum (Museum of Upper Hesse) in Gießen, UMR’s Ethnographic Collection is currently investigating the colonial origins of some of its sub-collections thanks to funding from the German Lost Art Foundation. One objective of the research project is to reconstruct the biographies of around 60 objects from the East African region (particularly Tanzania) and Cameroon.

The collection of the Museum of Religions at UMR, founded in 1927, encompasses more than 10,000 objects with religious contexts from across numerous world regions. Approximately 500 objects are known to have originated in colonial contexts, specifically from South-east Asia, the Pacific region, and the African continent. For up to 8,000 additional objects originating in a wide variety of territories that were once colonies, this connection must still be reviewed through research. Since 2019, under the supervision of Prof. Edith Franke and Dr. Susanne Rodemeier, research projects have been conducted explicitly investigating objects from colonial contexts, into which students have also been incorporated. Preliminary findings regarding objects from the former German colony of German New Guinea will be published as research papers starting in late 2021 and also made available digitally on a rolling basis on the website of the collection of the Museum of Religions.


Research by the collection of the Museum of Religions into objects from colonial contexts

The Anatomical Collection at UMR was established as a teaching collection in the early 19th century and is now part of a collection of medical history and anatomy. It currently encompasses around 2500 anatomical specimens, a collection of histological sections with an estimated 10,000 slides, diverse drawings, anatomical diagrams, historical photographic plates and medical instruments. The collection presents a broad view of the scientific history of the 19th and early 20th century, which is also linked to colonial collection practices. One example of this are the 60 human skulls from various societies of origin that reached Marburg over the course of the 19th century – including the decorated skull of an inhabitant of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. It was added to the collection as a gift to the Marburg anatomy professor Ludwig Fick, who directed the anatomical institute from 1842 to 1858. The collection also includes a roughly 1000-year-old South American mummy from Arica (in today’s Chile), which  the director of the physiological institute Eduard Külz donated in 1892 or 1893 along with a number of burial objects. Future provenance research and the digitisation of the collection will facilitate entering into dialogue with the societies of origin and carrying out restitutions of the human remains.

The Pharmacognostical Collection at UMR was established for the sake of training in pharmacology and medicine by Prof. Julius Wilhelm Albert Wigand, who was a professor of botany and pharmacognosy in Marburg beginning in 1854. It originally encompassed 4,000 naturally occurring drugs, including an extensive collection of Cinchona species. The collection’s aim was to utilise all medicinal plants as raw materials in teaching, by way of product and trade samples, and to present the origins, plant harvesting and processing, and foremost the trade routes of the raw materials. A precise overview of the exact sources and countries of origin of all individual specimens is not currently available. The objects’ origins are therefore to be investigated in more detail. Their digitisation is currently in preparation and will be combined with provenance disclosures.

The Zoological Collection was founded in 1818 by Blasius Merrem. The Zoological Collection currently encompasses far more than the previously estimated 40,000 objects. A full inventory has not yet been completed. Because major portions of the collection were gathered in the 19th century, it also includes a very large quantity of objects from colonial contexts. In addition to a wide range of specimens of invertebrate animals (several thousand objects, mostly molluscs and insects) and vertebrates (approx. 500–1,000 objects, including birds from South America), it also includes a few human remains. These objects’ territories of origin are primarily Latin America, Africa and South-east Asia. The provenance of many objects is already well documented. The origins and acquisition history of other objects or object groups have been investigated on an ongoing basis in recent years.

PAESE Database

The PAESE consortium database assembles groups of objects within the research focus of the participating institutions in Lower Saxony (the State Museum Hannover, the Ethnological Collection of the University of Göttingen, the Oldenburg State Museum of Nature and Humanity, the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim , the Municipal Museum Braunschweig, and the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission of Lower-Saxony). The focus here lies on documenting the origins (provenance) of the objects. The information listed there, which is expanded on an ongoing basis, reflects the current or most recent state of research and lists the initials of the editors. The information on objects and their provenance is compiled in coordination with the collaborative project’s colleagues and partners from the countries of origin (primarily Cameroon, Namibia, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, and Australia). 

Ethnological Collection of the University of Göttingen, Public Statements and Transparency: This page assembles statements on dealing with collections from colonial contexts and gives an overview of (scanned) catalogues of the holdings of the Ethnological Collection and returns made to date.    

Cultural Heritage Portal, Lower Saxony: The portal, coordinated by the Göttingen State and University Library, is a website operated jointly by libraries, archives and museums in the Land of Lower Saxony. It provides an interested public with direct access to selected digitised cultural objects in the Land in multimedia formats. In one virtual space, this brings together a very wide assortment of holdings of various types located at different libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions. The project, financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Land of Lower Saxony, defines itself as a competence network for the digital cultural heritage of the Land of Lower Saxony. The holdings can be searched for ethnological collections and objects. 

The BASA Museum of the Department for the Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn holds more than 10,000 objects, the majority of which are from the Americas. A smaller part of the collection also includes objects from Africa, Asia and Oceania. The collection focuses on archaeological objects from the Andean region and Mesoamerica as well as ethnographic objects from the Amazon region and the Andean highlands. The provenances of these objects lie outside of formal colonial rule (case group 2) as defined by the German Museums Association (DMB) guidelines for handling of collection items from colonial contexts. Determining the quantity and value of objects from colonial contexts is only possible through provenance research.

In the WissKI database, used by the BASA Museum since late 2019, around 950 objects are currently publicly accessible. The long-term objective is to gradually make the entire collection accessible through the database.

Currently accessible objects mainly include those from the Trimborn and Oberem collections from Central and South America. Hermann Trimborn founded the Department of Ethnology and the Ethnological Teaching and Study Collection at the University of Bonn in 1948, thereafter acting as director of both. Udo Oberem was Trimborn's student and successor. The objects from both collections were transferred to the Teaching and Study Collection in the 1950s and 1960s. They originate predominantly from the Andean highlands and Costa Rica and include a roughly equal number of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts acquired on research trips.

The information on objects from the Trimborn and Oberem collections in the database is taken from the respective inventory book and index cards. The latter were created retrospectively for individual artifacts with the help of student assistants from the 1970s onwards. The provided information may therefore not be up-to-date with the current state of research. The research database will be updated with new findings about the objects from ongoing and future projects conducted by students and researchers as well as from collaborative research with members of the societies of origin.

Since the late 1990s, the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (RJM)’s collections have been gradually catalogued electronically in an Access-based database. During a restructuring of the storage holdings occasioned by the relocation of the museum and its collection between 2010 and 2017, all the objects were photographed; this collection of photographs was then digitised. 

The data sets were migrated to the City of Cologne’s MuseumPlus consortium database in the autumn of 2020. The data is now being cleaned, thesauruses are being developed, and missing details are being added whenever available.

At present, the museum is able to answer questions it receives about specific collection holdings. Increasingly, the museum is taking part in international inventory surveys and, to a limited extent, provenance research projects, such as Africa Accessioned (Botswana and Namibia), Digital Benin, Invisible International Programme Kenya, Philippine Material Culture in Europe, Japanese Buddhist Art in European Collections (JBAE), and Return of Cultural Heritage (AIATSIS).

The City of Cologne is currently working on the technical prerequisites and developing an IT infrastructure to enable placing our data online, which is planned for 2022.

Preliminary project-related digital collection overviews are viewable on RJM websites and are updated on a regular basis:

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum: Cultures of the World, Cologne 

The RJM Collection of Royal Court Artworks from the Kingdom of Benin (Edo State, Nigeria) 

If you have any questions, please contact: rjm-doku@stadt-koeln.de.

The Collection of Royal Court Artworks from the Kingdom of Benin (Edo State, Nigeria) at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, as of 15 June 2021 

The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum holds 94 royal artworks from the Kingdom of Benin, the fourth-largest such collection in Germany.  The museum received these works of art between 1899 and 1967 as donations and purchases. It is considered certain that all of them were looted from the palace of the Oba of Benin by the British Army in February 1897. The oldest and most valuable works of art date from the period between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while the majority where created from the mid-eighteenth to late-nineteenth centuries. Some 65 of the RJM’s 94 Benin Bronzes were acquired before 1902 at auction houses in London by the Rautenstrauch family – the museum’s namesake and major patron – and donated as gifts to the City of Cologne. 

Despite their international significance, these 94 pieces of royal art had yet to be classified historically and iconographically. The RJM – supported by the Museumsgesellschaft RJM e.V. with funds from the bequest of Ludwig Theodor – therefore commissioned an initial overview of the origins of the royal works of art in 2020. Beginning in 2021, it has also commissioned an overview study to analyse the techniques and materials of the collection. A preliminary report on the collection’s history and the complete inventory of the collection have been publicly available on the RJM website since January 2020. In addition, since November 2020, all 94 royal artworks have been comprehensively presented online, prompted by the special exhibition RESIST! The Art of Resistance. Their provenance has likewise been communicated to visitors.

Dr Erika Sulzmann started the department’s ethnographic collections in 1950. From 1951 to 1954, she spent more than two years in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo), carrying out fieldwork among the Ekonda and Bolia in the equatorial rainforest together with Ernst Wilhelm Müller, who was a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the time. They collected more than 500 objects, which formed the original core of the department’s holdings. Erika Sulzmann constantly expanded the collections during subsequent research trips to the Congo between 1956 and 1980.

Today, the Ethnographic Collection preserves approximately 3,000 objects, primarily from Central and West Africa, as well as Australia, Papua New Guinea, and other parts of Oceania. This diverse collection is comprised of a wide range of objects, including weapons, basket, musical instruments, textiles and religious objects. It is the only collection of its kind in Rhineland-Palatinate and one of the largest university collections at Mainz University. Since 1992, Dr Anna-Maria Brandstetter has been the collection’s curator. The collections’ items are used in teaching. Students learn how to handle ethnographic objects according to ethical considerations, how to conserve them, and how to design small exhibitions around them.

About 1,680 objects were translocated to Europe in a colonial context from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th century, in many cases by using pressure, extortion, and violence. They are therefore historical objects that refer to past life worlds and at the same time tell of their appropriation in Europe in the context of the colonial conquest of Africa or Oceania.

In the digital collection "Gutenberg Objects" of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz about 300 objects from colonial contexts (mainly from Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Tanzania) in the Ethnographic Collection will be available from October 2021.

Website of the Ethnographic Collection 

The SKD’s Online Collection: Via the Online Collection, the diverse holdings of the SKD, which encompasses fifteen collections and museums in total, have been gradually made available on the Internet since 2010. The underlying basis for this data is the museum database “robotron*Daphne”. During a years-long project of provenance research, digitising and cataloguing, known as “Daphne”, detailed information regarding around 1.6 objects and 1.5 million archival holdings has been recorded in the database since 2008, much of it enhanced by pictorial materials.

A large share of the object information regarding individual artworks is already accessible via the Online Collection. Alongside basic details, comments and bibliographic references are available in some cases. The SKD strives to use language free from racism and discrimination in the Online Collection. However, scholarly work with museum objects does also include documentation of artworks’ historical titles (listed in quotation marks) and original descriptions that did, in some cases, employ racist and discriminatory terms. So as not to reproduce such viewpoints, these terms are hidden in the Online Collection and replaced with ****. In the object view, visitors to the website have the ability to choose whether to view the term in question. A feedback function also makes it possible to submit comments and input, which constitutes a valuable contribution to the digitisation and cataloguing efforts. 

Provenance Research on Colonial Contexts at the SKD: Provenance research regarding colonial contexts is a core component of museum work, especially at the Staatlichen Ethnographischen Sammlungen Sachsen, SES (State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony) within the SKD. The link to “Provenance Research on Colonial Contexts” on the SKD’s research channel leads directly to the “Decolonize” platform on the SES websites. 

“Decolonize” Platform: The “Decolonize” platform disseminates information on the approaches of the three SES museums (the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde in Leipzig, the Museum für Völkerkunde in Dresden and the Völkerkundemuseum in Herrnhut) towards decolonisation, restitution and repatriation. It seeks to portray their activities with regard to these core questions of an ethnological museum’s work transparently. An important concern of the platform is to inform potential claimants of how they can approach the museum, at first informally, and the stages of the subsequent process leading from an official repatriation or restitution request, as the case may be, all the way to a formal return or repatriation.

The Digital Collection of the Nordfriesland Museum in Husum: For many years, the Nordfriesland Museum in Husum has been a member of DigiCult. DigiCult is a consortium of museums aimed at digitally cataloguing and publishing museum holdings. In turn, DigiCult make the artefacts of the Nordfriesland Museum accessible to the public via the platform museen-nord.de. Over the years, however, the website has become outdated. As part of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) project “Zwischen Weltoffenheit und Kolonialismus – die ethnografischen Sammlungen schleswig-holsteinischer Museen” (Between Worldliness and Colonialism: The Ethnographic Collections of Schleswig-Holstein Museums), a new website was planned that would link the objects in the collections to modern-day considerations. The ethnographic objects of the Nordfriesland Museum were slated to be published on the new website alongside other content. Due to various technical difficulties, however, this website was unable to be launched according to schedule when the project ended in 2020. The new plan of DigiCult and the Nordfriesland Museum is now to publish all ethnographic objects on a separate portal while simultaneously displaying the collections’ artefacts via the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library, DDB) and Europeana. Selected objects from the Nordfriesland Museum’s collection are already viewable via the old website www.museen-nord.de, but a better solution is sought for the coming months.

Located in the state capital, Museum Wiesbaden is the Hessian state museum of art and nature. Divided into two core collection areas – art and natural history – and with more than 7000 square metres of exhibition space at its disposal, the museum boasts a rich programme of permanent collection displays and temporary exhibits. The Natural History Collections’ permanent exhibition, Aesthetics of Nature, features four themed galleries: Form, Colour, Movement, and Time. Pivotal to the displays are the observation and description of the natural world, with the rich diversity of nature’s forms and colours on vivid show in a structured presentation tracing the history of the Earth and evolution. The Art Collection, meanwhile, features artworks dating from the 12th century to the present. Highlights include the collection of Modernist masters (for instance, the most significant holdings in the world of art by Alexej von Jawlensky), the internationally renowned F. W. Neess Collection of Art Nouveau, as well as postwar European and American art.

Museum Wiesbaden has its origins in the initiative of several civic associations in the early 19th century. Its current building was inaugurated in 1915 and has served for over a century as home to permanent and special exhibitions on various art-historical, scientific, and cultural-historical themes.

The Natural History Collections has its roots in the Natural History Society of the Duchy of Nassau and its affiliated museum. An ethnological collection already formed part of the Natural History Collections upon its founding in the 19th century. It was shaped by the personal contacts forged globally by various explorers, merchants, missionaries, and military officers from the Duchy of Nassau and their interdisciplinary interest in nature and humankind’s interaction with the natural environment. The collection is currently being digitized and uploaded onto Museum Wiesbaden’s Online Collection as part of the digitization strategy of the state of Hesse. The concurrent scholarly research into the collection objects themselves and their history – especially regarding acquisition and accession – is being undertaken in tandem with our colleagues in the Network of Hessian Museums and Collections on the Handling and Publication of Holdings from Colonial Contexts, a research project spearheaded by Museum Wiesbaden.

Museum Wiesbaden website: www.museum-wiesbaden.de

Online Collection: www.museum-wiesbaden.de/online-collection