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Ethnological Institue

The building with the columns and the large wooden portal is home to the “Ethnological Collection” of the University of Göttingen. Ethnology is the science that tries to explore the diversity of human living environments. This includes, for example, cultural practices such as eating and clothing habits, but also social norms and values.

This type of research has a long history in Göttingen: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a professor of medicine who has already been introduced, helped ensure that many objects from the South Pacific (the “Cook/Forster Collection”) and from the Arctic polar region (the “Baron von Asch Collection”) came to Göttingen in the second half of the 18th century. Among them is, for instance, the feather portrait of the Hawai’i war god Kuka’ilimoku or the hat of a seal hunter. In the years that followed, objects continued to find their way to Göttingen, often through direct as well as indirect acts of structural violence.

The now approximately 18,000 objects came to the university through various researchers, students, and donations. The power structures of the Nazi regime were also used for acquisitions. Especially Professor Hans Plischke, director of the collection and Nazi, expanded the collection by taking advantage of the war situation and “acquiring” countless objects from e.g. Poland and France. Plischke also worked on theories of race and advocated the preservation and expansion of German colonies.

About 450 objects in the collection came to Göttingen during the period of formal German colonial rule from 1884-1918. In addition, there are several hundred more that were obtained during this period and later entered the collection, for example, in the form of donations from other museums. There is also a large number of objects where information is lacking, but where it is very likely that they also originate from this period and from German colonial territories.

When dealing with objects from the colonial period, it is very important to always keep power structures in mind. The use of power by the German colonizers was characterized by the use of violence and the suppression of resistance. Colonial continuities must be included in current research as well as in the exhibition of objects. These recurrent demands are repeatedly raised and are also visible around the building:

There are various research projects that focus on the more accurate acquisition of Göttingen’s objects from the German colonial period. We can recommend the Twitter account of the Student Initiative for the Study of Provenances & Decolonization Processes: Colonial Provinces in Göttingen

Links and sources:

  • Beate Hermann: Doppelt sensibel. Die Ethnographische Sammlung Łódz´ als Zeugnis polnischer und deutscher Zeitgeschichte