Provenance Research

Trade networks as basis of the distribution of colonial ethnographic objects from West Africa and Oceania and procurers of collection goods for the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg (1860-1920)

The research project is dedicated to the provenances of early collections of the Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK) connected to the international networks of Hamburg merchants at the end of the nineteenth century. The focus of the investigations throughout the first year was on the origin and circumstances of acquisition of significant collections from West Africa. Similar work will be conducted throughout the next two years for holdings that stem from Oceania and were acquired in the context of trade, with an eye to connections of colonial contexts of injustice.

The collections studied during the first year of the project were selected due to their component objects, their connections to trade at the end of the nineteenth century, that were particularly suitable to reveal underlying structures, and from which further analytical approaches could be developed. A large part of the MARKK’S West African holdings accessioned by the early twentieth century came via the family members of important trading and shipping companies or from individuals who, up to this point, were only known by the name recorded in the museum inventory. These individuals were the focus of the first year of research. In addition to the historical contextualization of the acquisition circumstances, the project further aimed to create an expandable frame of reference for further provenance research at the MARKK and other German museums.

Building on this, collections from Oceania are to be examined more closely in the next two years in an extension of the geographical framework, and with a focus on the former German colonial territories. Here, too, the historical context forms the starting point for researching the collections that the former Museum für Völkerkunde obtained via transaction partners from the Hamburg trading environment, such as “Hernsheim & Co.” or the so-called “Jaluit-Gesellschaft”.

The results of the research project, now extended by two years, will be incorporated into the MARKK’s new permanent exhibition, where the collection’s connections with Hamburg’s world trade and the provenance research conducted on it will play an important role. Additionally, the research results will be published on the museum’s website and in various portals of colonial provenance research. It is also planned to publish the results in a scientific journal issued by the museum. Depending on the results of the research on the acquisition circumstances of the respective collection objects, joint steps (e.g. restitutions) are to be planned in cooperation with local partners.

At the end of October/beginning of November 2022, a workshop organized in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Michi Knecht (University of Bremen) will take place at the MARKK, where early results and perspectives of the project will be discussed in cooperation with representatives from Papua New Guinea among others.

Project duration: July 1, 2020 until June 30, 2023

Funded by