Conference on the reassessment of colonial history

News from 11/17/2021

In cooperation with the SPK and the Research Center for Material Culture of the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures, the German Lost Art Foundation is holding a digital conference on cultural assets from colonial contexts.

Zwei Personen bedecken zwei Schachteln auf einem Tisch mit einem schwarzen Tuch
Übergabezeremonie der Toi moko aus dem Ethnologischen Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin nach Neuseeland, 2020 © SPK / / Florian Gärtner

The debate about returning cultural assets to former colonial areas is highly topical – and yet it is much older than most people realize. At its digital conference on "The Long History of Claims for the Return of Cultural Heritage from Colonial Contexts" from November 17 to 19, 2021, the German Lost Art Foundation is joining forces with the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and the Research Center for Material Culture of the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures to consider the long history of demands for the return of cultural objects and human remains from colonized countries.

The conference has attracted more than five hundred registered participants, who will use this opportunity to examine systematically how individuals and, in some cases, entire communities in countries such as Namibia, New Zealand, Ethiopia, and Peru have reclaimed cultural assets from European colonial powers, beginning as early as the nineteenth century.

The conference speakers – more than forty scholars and experts from all over the world – will present and analyze claims and restitutions from the period up to and including the 1970s. They will describe disputes over restitutions that, in many cases, have dragged on for decades, uncover evidence of violence by the former colonial powers that has remained hidden in the archives, and discuss the significance that the ‘home-coming’ of mortal remains can have for the societies concerned.

SPK President Hermann Parzinger: "In the debate about objects acquired during the colonial period, museums have a special responsibility that goes beyond academic discussion: as institutions charged with the preservation of objects, they have to find practicable solutions – jointly with the countries and communities of origin. We at the SPK accept this responsibility for the items entrusted to us, just as we have done for years with the critical reassessment of the Nazi past. In doing so, it is essential to learn from past experience. That is why this conference is so important!"

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