Forschung zu NS-Raubgut in Museen mit jener zu den Objekten kolonialer Herkunft in Konversation bringen

October 25, 2019

From October 24 to October 26, leading German and American provenance researchers, who collaborated in the PREP network over the last three years, will meet at the German Historical Institute (GHI). A public panel discussion on October 26, organized in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution and the Goethe-Institut Washington, will expand the research focus of PREP, which is on Nazi-era looting, to include the current debate concerning colonial objects in Western museums. Renowned historians will discuss perspectives on provenance research in the context of colonial and Nazi power structures at the GHI.

The main goal of provenance researchers is to find out where the objects come from that we look at in glass cabinets as museum visitors and what entangled paths they took in the past. Provenance researchers make object histories more tangible. This is even more important if the cultural artifact was unlawfully taken from the owner during the Nazi era. Western museums, in particular, and not only those in Europe, now attend to generating more transparency regarding the content of their collections and their handling of them, and more demands are now also placed on them to do so.

Ending in the next days, the German/American Provenance Research Exchange Program (PREP) will take place at the German Historical Institute (GHI) Washington among other places from October 24 to October 26. Substantially funded by the German government, PREP has established a network of experts from both countries, encourages exchange, and reinforces provenance research in general. The content mainly focuses on cultural artifacts looted during the Nazi era.

The intertwining of different perspectives on the looting of cultural artifacts and the expansion of the focus on the Third Reich to include the colonial context is particularly important to the GHI Washington as the host and organizer of the panel discussion on October 26. The discussion “Object Lessons: German and American Perspectives and Provenance Research of the Colonial and Nazi Eras,” which will take place at the GHI, brings together renowned experts from both research fields. The participants will reflect on the great dispute in Germany, Europe, and the US about colonial objects that culminated in public museums being asked to make their inventory lists more accessible. “It is important to discuss this controversial political question in its historic depth and to connect existing research on Nazi-era looting in museums to research focusing on colonial origin. To us, this topic seems to be very fruitful as previous conferences and research projects at the institute have shown. We are really looking forward to discussing these and other questions regarding the extensive debate on provenance research with the PREP participants as our guests and interested members of the public. The demand is very high since the event sold out a week ago,” Simone Lässig, the director of the GHI, highlights.

In what way can cultural artifacts and their “migration history” contribute to our knowledge  and our memory of dark chapters in history? How can they help us deduce asymmetric forms of historic linkage? What role can historians and provenance researchers play? Moreover, what inferences can be drawn from the research on Nazi-era looting for colonial contexts, and vice versa? These topics will be discussed by Raphael Gross (German Historical Museum, Berlin), Glenn Penny (University of Iowa), Hilke Thode-Arora (Five Continents Museum Munich; 2018 PREP guest speaker), Mirjam Brusius (German Historical Institute London), and Christine Kreamer (National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution). The discussion will be moderated by Irene Bald Romano (University of Arizona; 2018 PREP participant), and Anna-Carolin Augustin (GHI Washington).