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Männerstiefel, Kalaallit, Westgrönland, spätes 18. Jh., Provenienz wahrscheinlich Sammlung Baron von Hüpsch (1805)

Ethnological Provenance Research

The origins of the ethnographic holdings of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt reach back to the Grand Ducal collection of the 18th century. More by coincidence than by design and predominantly through donations, they have since increased to about 5000 objects. For a long time, the emphases of the collections rested on North America, East Asia, and the Dutch colonies in Indonesia. From the late 19th century on, further collections by civil servants, traders, and missionaries from the German colonies in Africa and Oceania came in, of which only a few were assembled from a scientific perspective.

Samurairüstung, Japan, 18. oder 19. Jh., Provenienz Sammlung Alexander von Siebold (1873)

In order to be able to illustrate the diverse functions and meanings of objects in their original cultural contexts, their regional and ethnic provenances have to be determined. It is important, moreover, to investigate collection histories and to reconstruct the intricate ways in which objects came to the museum with the help of inventories, exhibition catalogues, correspondence, and historical sources. Of interest in this respect is the attribution of meanings and values attendant to the transformation of implements or ceremonial objects of one culture to souvenirs, war trophies, or scientific evidence of another culture. The term "provenance research" established in art and culture history for this identification of origin has only in recent years come into use for the research of ethnographic collections from colonial contexts.

Today ethnological provenance research places a new focus on the assessment of legitimacy or illegitimacy of the acquisition of objects from colonial contexts, which were exchanged, traded, or gifted in a variety of circumstances, but also obtained by fraud, stolen, or forcibly removed. It questions property rights and lays the foundation for the potential restitution of objects to the descendants of source communities.

Ethnological provenance research not only seeks to reveal the entanglement of collectors and museums with the economic, political, or ideological interests of the colonial enterprise, but also to elucidate the range of indigenous reactions to the European practice of collecting. It ultimately aims at cooperation with the descendants of the original owners and consideration of indigenous knowledge about these objects in order to provide a basis for the proper handling of this shared heritage in the future.

Malangan-Maske, Neuirland, um 1900, Provenienz Sammlung Freiherr Wilhelm von Starck (1907)

Provenance Research Hesse

Further information


Sylvia Kasprycki (Provenance Research Ethnology)

Tel.: +49 (0) 6151 3601-340

Dr. Gabriele Mackert (Curator Art 18th-21st Century, Ethnology)

Tel.: +49 (0) 6151 3601-212

Die Haupthalle im Eingangsbereich des Hessischen Landesmuseums

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