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Guest Talk Gesa Grimme

Doing "provenance research": Towards the decolonization of ethnographic museums?


20 December 2021, 18.15, hybrid
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
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Gesa Grimme, M.A. (LMU München):

Doing “provenance research”: researchers, knowledge production & disciplinary perspectives

Amidst growing debates on Germany’s colonial history and the establishment of the Humboldt Forum, ethnographic collections and the conditions under which they were obtained have come under public scrutiny. Since the mid-2010s, museum officials and political decision-makers increasing-ly consider research into the collections’ colonial origins – labeled as “Provenance Research on Collections from Colonial Contexts” – as a particular important instrument for dealing with the museums’ – and Germany’s – colonial past and postcolonial present. In most of the public debates, however, those who actually carry out the research and their expertise remain invisible.

In my PhD thesis, I ethnographically study how research on collections from colonial contexts is done and explore how its modes of knowledge production are socially organized. I focus on three intertwined analytical dimensions: the researchers, the institutional settings in which their work takes place and the forms of social organization which shape individual practices as well as procedures of museums and universities. In my talk, after outlining my research project, I will explore how practices and procedures of different academic disciplines affect knowledge production in the emerging field of “Provenance Research on Collections from Colonial Contexts” and ask how disciplinary perspectives shape research objectives, methods, and collaborations.

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