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Aktuelles Feldforschungspraktikum


Lehrforschung / Research Practice „Decentering the Museum“ Lab
with Summer School, Study Visits and Fieldwork in Cape Town

Instructors: Martin Zillinger & Anna Brus in co-operation with Michi Knecht (Univ. Bremen) & Ciraj Rassool (Univ. Western Cape)

At the university of Cologne, for a selected group of graduate students, the M.A. Programme in Social and Cultural Anthropology regularly offers the opportunity to partake in directed fieldwork.

The current fieldwork seminar „Decentering the Ethnographic Museum" is organized as an exchange with graduate students from the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of Western Cape, South Afrika, and will take place in co-operation with the Department of Art History, Cologne,  and the Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research at the University of Bremen  and museum experts and students from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea .

Participating students are expected to follow the discussion on the boasblogs DCNtR, to prepare extensive literature and, over 12 days, to take part in a study visit programme to museums and colonial collections in Cologne, Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin with the South African and Papuan counterparts, before they visit Capetown in summer 2022 for fieldwork in Museum collections.

Please note that, due to the current pandemic, the detailed schedule of the programme is subject to change, also on short notice.

Participation in the programme is restricted. Preference will be given to students who will take part in (1) the preparatory meetings, (2) the study visit programme in Germany and (3) summer school with study visits and/or fieldwork in Capetown. All participants are expected to write a small letter of motivation, which they need to bring to the first seminar session (not more than one page). 

More information for Student of Univ. of Cologne (UoC) in German

In diesem Seminar wollen wir neue Formen der internationalen Kooperation entwickeln, um die Debatte um die Dekolonisierung von Museen (weiter) aufzuarbeiten, ausgewählte Museen und ihre Sammlungen in Deutschland und Südafrika zu besuchen und eine Diskussion mit internationalen (Nachwuchs-) Forscherinnen zum Thema zu führen. Alle Studierenden auf dem Master und – nach Rücksprache – im fortgeschrittenen BA Level können sich für eine Teilnahme bewerben und im Rahmen des Seminars ausgewählte Forschungsprojekte verfolgen.

Im Sinne einer nachhaltigen Kooperation ist die Teilnahme an dem Study Visit in Deutschland obligatorisch, die Teilnahme an der Lehrforschung in Kapstadt erfolgt nach Absprache. Außerdem wird die Bereitschaft erwartet, diese Reisen durch intensive Lektüre und Block-Seminare (bereits in der vorlesungsfreien Zeit!) vorzubereiten und diese Reisen in Gruppenarbeit zu dokumentieren. Kunsthistorische Studierenden können den Aufenthalt in Kapstadt und seine Dauer an das Studienprogramm des KHI anpassen. Nach der Lehrforschung in Kapstadt ist ein Forschungsbericht zu erstellen. Dafür wird ein Nachbereitungsseminar im Wintersemester angeboten.

Die Teilnahme an den Reisen wird durch Universitätsmittel für die Studierenden (ko-)finanziert.


The Outline

In recent years, anthropological and ethnographic colonial collections have increasingly taken centre stage in the momentous debate on (post)colonial legacies. Museums are facing the challenge to decolonise their exhibition practices and examine their collection history for looted art, violent entanglements and systematic exclusion. Not only between the Global North and the Global South, also within societies in Europe and Africa, struggles for recognition and a new relational ethic increasingly manifest themselves around museum spaces. These debates draw on transnationally circulating concepts (e.g. notions of cultural property, (world) heritage, restitution or art), but evolve differently in different national, regional and social settings. They are deeply enmeshed with discourses on social inclusion and exclusion, (dis)integration and belonging, which redefine the composition of contemporary societies and publics. This holds true for societies of Southern Africa emerging from long histories of repression, but also for European societies, which are experiencing a steady rise of nationalist movements and xenophobia.

Germany has come rather late to the table of these museum debates, but some of its anthropological museums are currently being transformed into pressure-cookers of change. Confronted with new groups of actors claiming another politics of memory, the return of objects and an equal share in representational policies, museums are starting to decentre: to open up to diverse perspectives and claims on what a museum is or wants to be. 

This programme seeks to enable future researchers and curators from Africa and Germany to engage with the transformation of colonial collections and anthropological museums, with local archival situations, curatorial strategies and politics of cultural identity in an interconnected world. It will establish a space for negotiating dominant epistemic regimes and questions of access. Ultimately it seeks to develop new forms of co-operation in in higher education, cultural studies of the museum, and in research and curatorial practice. 

More on the debate in German

Nur wenige öffentliche Räume sind gegenwärtig Gegenstand von so kontroversen und zum Teil unversöhnlichen Diskussionen wie Museen mit ihren Sammlungen – in Deutschland und weltweit. Ethnologische Museen, Kunstmuseen, Naturkundemuseen und Regionalmuseen stehen zunehmend vor der Herausforderung, ihre Ausstellungspraktiken zu dekolonisieren und ihre Sammlungsgeschichte auf geraubte Kunst, kolonial-historische Verwicklungen und systematische Ausschlüsse hin zu untersuchen. In diesem Prozess lässt sich eine zunehmende Sprachlosigkeit zwischen Museumsethnolog*Innen, Sozial- und Kulturanthropolog*innen, Kunsthistoriker*innen, postkolonialen Aktivist*innen und nicht zuletzt den Museumsgesellschaften beobachten, während gleichzeitig museale Zuständigkeiten und disziplinäre Grenzen in Frage gestellt werden.

Die jüngste Initiative des französischen Präsidenten Macron, den senegalesischen Wissenschaftler Felwine Sarr und die Kunsthistorikerin Bénédicte Savoy (Berlin/Paris) zu beauftragen, die Rückgabe afrikanischer Objekte aus französischen Sammlungen einzuleiten, hat ein neues Kapitel in der langen Geschichte der transkontinentalen Verflechtungen eröffnet. Neue grenzüberschreitende Debatten, situierte Erinnerungspraktiken und kooperative kuratorische Projekte entwickeln sich um ethnographische Objekte, Kunst und andere materielle Dinge zwischen Europa, den ehemals kolonisierten Gesellschaften und unterschiedlichen Akteursgruppen vor Ort. Die Initiative hat eine weltweite Agenda zur Dekolonisierung von Museumssammlungen und akademischer Forschung für die kommenden Jahren gesetzt - die neue Räume für den transnationalen Austausch eröffnet, aber auch neue Herausforderungen für die Museumsarbeit und die akademische Forschung mit sich bringt.


The Programme

Scheduled: Summer Semester 2022 - starting already on Saturday 26 March

During the preparatory meetings participants will prepare the study visit programme and the summer school with fieldwork. With the help of digital platforms, interdisciplinary and international student-teams will explore the current debates and zoom in on case studies related to different dimensions of the decentring process of the museums. Students and teachers will learn how to engage critically with archives of and curatorial practices in German museums.

  • Saturday 26 March 2022 : prior to the arrival of the South African students

  • Friday - Saturday 20 and 21 May 2022  :  to prepare for the stay in Cape Town

  • Further meetings are still to be fixed


Scheduled: 29 March to 9 April 2022. Due to the current pandemic the visit by our colleagues from South Africa and Papua New-Guinea might well be postponed

During the 12-day study-visit in Germany students from Cologne, Bremen, Cape Town and Port Moresby will work together in seminars and workshops, in jointly visiting exhibitions, depots and archives and by engaging with leading museum directors, restorers and curators. The program in Germany is geared towards opening up Eurocentric and nationalised perspectives, foster intercontinental knowledge transfer and explore different epistemic practices by visiting and working in

(1) the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum Cologne,
(2) the Museum auf der Hardt, Wuppertal
(3) the Überseemuseum Bremen,
(4) the Museum am Rothenbaum Hamburg, and
(5) the Humboldt Forum, Dahlem Research Campus, Berlin.

Student teamwork and one-day workshops will explore

(1) forms and possibilities of resistance (Cologne: Resist!),
(2) challenges and pitfalls of restitution (Bremen: Reconnect!),
(3) museum spaces of reconciliation and healing (Hamburg: Repair?),
(4) and radical new forms of co-operation (Berlin: Re-Imagine!).

At each site students will hold a workshop together with the museum staff and document their work experiences.


Scheduled: 25 June to 20 July 2022

Students will be expected to stay up to five or six weeks in Cape Town and work together with students and colleagues in Capetown on museum collections and heritage sites by applying ethnographic research methods, documenting their findings and continuing to document their work experiences.

Preliminary Programme:

  • Week 1, 6 days , 9:00 to 18:00 :
    Summer School (1) - Preparations for the study visits to the museums, Cape Town and surroundings
  • Weeks 2-4, Study visits to and fieldwork in museums, depots, archives, participant observation and interviews in 4-person teams, day trip to VEM Wupperthal
  • Week 5, 6 days, 9:00 to 18:00:
    Spring School (2) - Evaluation of the study visits and fieldwork, presentations and write up workshop

Study Visit Locations (preliminary) :

  • University of Western Cape
  • Iziko Museums of South Africa, Cape Town
  • The District Six Museum, Cape Town
  • Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town
  • Vereinigte Evangelische Mission (VEM), Wupperthal (South Africa)


The Output

Over the period of the study visits,  documentary film makers Sebastian Eschenbach and Visual Anthropologist Anna Lisa Ramella will accompany the students in the museums, seminars and workshops. Students will produce smart-phone photography and films, and have time during the study visit together to conceptualise the multi-media-online publication that will form one core output of the project and will be accessible to Universities’ and Museums’ webpages.

A second output will be a short blog written by small teams of students about each of the four workshop for the well-established blog “DCNtR” (https://boasblogs.org/dcntr/

The Follow Up

After the return visit with research and workshops at UWC a long-term exchange between the participating institutions, building on this initiative, is planned.