European Commission - 7th Framework Programme European Museums and Libraries in/of the age of migrations last updated: February 2015

Museums of Cultures, Wereldmuseum, Värdskulturmuseet... What else? Positioning Ethnological Museums

21-23 June 2015

Hanover, Germany | Herrenhausen Palace


Rooted in the curiosity cabinets of the Enlightenment, ethnological museums experienced an enormous boom during the colonial period. The collections assembled in those past times continue to characterize the exhibits of ethnological museums today, causing the need for a critical appraisal of the past, present, and future of this particular genre of museum. The symposium will address topics like the history of museum collections, provenance research, the special case of "restitution", different forms of cooperation as well as how these aspects can become part of ethnographic exhibitions.

The Herrenhausen Symposium "Positioning Ethnological Museums in the 21st Century" is open to researchers and experts working in this field.


The sessions will highlight the following topics:

1. History of Museum Collections / Provenance Research

In the public discourse there are calls for more in-depth research into the provenance of ethnological objects. The claim is that objects may only be exhibited when their provenance is untainted. But what should such provenance research entail in concrete terms? What are the necessary prerequisites? What results are expected? This session will explore examples of provenance research and the consequences for museum collections.

2. The Special Case of "Restitution". Legal Aspects and Others

Public interest in the topic of ethnological collections is frequently aroused by restitution issues. There are both: International standards that determine how to deal with these collections as well as the possibility of finding individual solutions. The reason for restitution claims vary, depending for instance on whether they refer to objects or human remains. Both aspects will be dealt with in this session.

3. Cooperation/Networking/Knowledge Transfer

The debates on provenance, restitution, ethnology in universities and museums, and the role of ethnological museums have given rise to various approaches to cooperation between museums and countries of provenance or source communities. This session will serve to illustrate and discuss examples of how to deal with collections in view of the foregoing discussions.

4. Exhibitions

How can topics like provenance, restitution, and the history of collections be addressed in actual exhibitions? How do museums position themselves when it comes to the history of their collections and their institution? And does this fit in with the goal and the function of museums to mediate knowledge about other (predominantly non-European) cultures and contribute towards better understanding between peoples?


Registration. There is no fee for the attendance, but registration is essential.


» link to the Conference