Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz statement on “Open letter: We demand free access to the museum inventories of African objects in Germany!”

News from 10/17/2019

Anyone who is objectively involved with the work of museums in Germany knows that they go to great effort to disclose their holdings and create transparency.

For the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, SPK), the debate on the object biographies in African collections is nothing new. On the contrary: For years, part of the everyday work of the curators in the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) has been to answer all inquiries about the collections and provide comprehensive information. Visitors from the countries and societies of origin are welcome to see everything and receive relevant lists as well. The museums’ reality has been characterized by intensive partnership for a long time.

The Ethnologisches Museum has gone to great lengths in recent years to inventory and digitize the collections of African objects. After all, we are aware of the importance of comprehensive electronic access, including pictures of objects, to their societies of origin. A total of 75,000 objects have been digitized, 61,000 of which have been saved as data sets, and 12,243 of the data sets have been published online on SMB-Digital. They can now be accessed worldwide. Currently the historical archive of the Ethnologisches Museum is being digitized with help from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG). The Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) assumes that directories of its collections will be available online in two to three years, but maybe sooner. One thing is absolutely certain: We would be quicker if we had more funds and personnel!

Despite the priority of both colonial contexts and property confiscated as part of Nazi persecution, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz is not only concerned with one world region such as Africa. The subjects of transparency and accessibility affect all of the Foundation’s collections.  About 14 million data sets from all of the Foundation’s collections are currently accessible to everyone online at www.spk-digital.de, of these about 540,000 with digitized information (image/audio/video).

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