Research on the history of the museums
The Zentralarchiv sees itself as the 'historical memory' of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, a place that enables, promotes, and publicizes research into the history of the 'Königliche', now 'Staatliche' Museen zu Berlin, by opening up to scholars the archival sources preserved here.
The Zentralarchiv provides assistance to the various museums that make up the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in their research prior to exhibitions and the release of collection catalogues. However, the archive increasingly undertakes research of its own, and in 2012 launched its own scholarly periodical series, 'Schriften zur Geschichte der Berliner Museen', which contains a broad sway of writings on the history of the Berlin museums. By 'Berlin museums', the editors refer explicitly to the museums that make up the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, also known by its former name, the 'Royal Museums', whose history, after its founding in 1830, has been inseparably intertwined with that of the city of Berlin. The series features critical editions of sources, thematic anthologies, and monographs on collections, notable persons, museum buildings, and other related issues. The series sees itself as a platform for scholarly publications on the history of the museums, preferably derived from sources from the Zentralarchiv’s own archives and written by staff from the various individual museums or the Zentralarchiv itself, or by external scholars.
Schriften zur Geschichte der Berliner Museen
Volume 1: 'Kunst-, Welt- und Werkgeschichten.' The correspondence between Hans Posse and Wilhelm von Bode, from 1904 to 1928, ed. Bernhard Maaz, with contributions by Petra Winter, Cologne 2012.
Volume 2: 'Zwischen Politik und Kunst.' The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin under National Socialism, anthology with 23 contributions, ed. Jörn Grabowski and Petra Winter, Due for publication autumn 2013.
Volume 3: Die Königlichen Museen zu Berlin, der Erste Weltkrieg und die Folgen (working title). Publication on the First World War and its consequences, planned for release in 2014.
In 2008 a permanent office was set up at the Zentralarchiv to conduct provenance research at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The current political focus is on cultural property looted during the Nazi dictatorship, primarily from Jewish-owned private collections. Beyond this however, the Zentralarchiv is also active in researching unresolved questions of ownership relating to objects in the collections of the Königliche Museen zu Berlin, which changed its name to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in 1918.
The Zentralarchiv is home to countless valuable sources for provenance research and these are constantly mined. These sources contain a wealth of information for scholars investigating complex questions of origin and ownership pertaining to museum objects. For years, the Zentralarchiv has supported research work on collection catalogues listing non-museum-owned objects. From the outset, the Zentralarchiv has been an important partner in handling the burgeoning number of requests for information on ownership and restitution demands presented to the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
Responding to the growing demands placed on provenance research, the Zentralarchiv set up a database as early as 2002, which facilitates the 'deep indexing' of selected file series from the archives of the Nationalgalerie, dating from the period 1918 to 1945. Deep indexing allows large volumes of information, keywords, dates, and names to be extracted and subsequently retrieved. The database grants direct access to the sources for targeted queries relating to specific works of art, artists, art dealers, and galleries, as well as private collectors and owners. It thus greatly reduces the amount of time that both Staatliche Museen zu Berlin staff and external researchers have to spend trawling the archives.
The Zentralarchiv works closely with the Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzforschung at the Institut für Museumsforschung.