Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft makes possible the digitization of the historical archive of the Ethnologisches Museum

19.12.2017
Ethnologisches Museum

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) is making possible the digitization of the historical archive of the Staatliche Museen’s Ethnologisches Museum. The digitized materials are to be made available via a public database and online libraries such as the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek.

The archive documents the creation and development, from 1830 on, of the largest collection of ethnological art and cultural objects in the German-speaking countries. Documentation of this kind does not exist in many other German museums. The archive thus provides an invaluable source for research into the history of ethnology in the German-speaking countries and for provenance research.

‘This important and extremely timely digitization project can serve, for our own collections and beyond, as a model for future projects of digitally linking written records with physical heritage’, said Michael Eissenhauer, director-general of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, before adding: ‘Our thanks to the DFG for their significant support.’ In a statement, Hermann Parzinger, president of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, had this to say: ‘With this project, we are creating site-independent, open access to the archive of the Ethnologisches Museum—an indispensable precondition for international research and an important foundation for exchange and cooperation with the societies of origin, as will occur at the Humboldt Forum as well.’

The digitization will encompass all documents through the year 1947. Currently, for preservation reasons, there is insufficient capacity even on-site to consult the archive’s approximately 1300 volumes of thread-bound files, 200 volumes of so-called ‘main catalogues’ and 85 volumes of journals of mail received. The historically valuable documents include texts on objects from the Royal Kunstkammer, correspondence, travel logs, expedition diaries, maps and drawings. These materials document the often complicated context in which the collection was acquired.

The earliest ethnographica and art objects collected by the museum are already attested in the seventeenth-century Cabinet of Art of Brandenburg-Prussia (Brandenburgisch-Preussische Kunstkammer). The collection experienced its greatest expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many objects came to the museum via scientific expeditions, military expeditions and missionary work, in particular in the German colonies of the time.