Everything at a Glance: The Ethnologiosches Museum’s Benin Collection Accessible Online

02.06.2021
Ethnologisches Museum

The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin seeks to ensure the greatest possible transparency when it comes to the presentation of its collections. For its collection of historical objects from Benin, which for a long time has been accessible to researchers on SMB-digital, a dedicated information page has been designed to make them even more accessible. Among other features, the page provides information about the history of the collection, and about the British invasion of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, without which, the objects would almost certainly have never ended up in Berlin.   

Today, looted objects from Benin are viewed as symbols of colonialist collecting practices. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin holds 514 historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin (located in what is today Nigeria), making it one of the largest collections of its kind. Of these objects, 512 are held in the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum, and 2 in the collection of Museum Berggruen.  

Presentation of the Objects in the Online Collection

A presentation within the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s online collection now offers an overview of these objects, as well as information about when and how they ended up in the Berlin collections. An English translation of the data sets is being prepared. Ensuring the highest possible levels of transparency was also part of the joint declaration on the handling of the Benin Bronzes in German museums issued on 29 April 2021 by the Federal Minister for Culture and Media, the German museums that make up the Berlin Dialogue Group, the federal German states and the German Foreign Office.   

Concerted Work on Provenance Transparency

The Ethnologisches Museum is also working to improve the provenance transparency of its collections in another way: the historical collection catalogues of the Museum für Völkerkunde (the predecessor of the Ethnologisches Museum), which covers the period from 1830 to 1947, is currently being digitised as part of a project supported by the DFG. The digital materials will also be made available online, making it easier for people to research the collection history of Berlin’s Ethnologisches Museum.

Information page for the Benin objects, with link to the online collection

New Online Presentation of the Collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In the wake of the successful relaunch of the blog “Museum and the City”, the online collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin are likewise undergoing a redesign. The new online presentation is currently accessible in a beta version, and from autumn 2021, will replace the existing SMB-digital website.