The Amazon Basin as a Laboratory for the Future

Networking – Understanding – Communicating

The objects stored in the storage cabinets of ethnological museums and the stacks of libraries and in archives are more than just silent witnesses to histories of appropriation, circulation and reinterpretation. These objects are the material manifestations of relationships between people, plants, ancestors, and other beings and territories. Even in their temporary status as collection objects, they have the potential to connect different life-worlds, forms of knowledge and knowledge practices, and thereby to return to life themselves – a life that transcends the walls of the institutions that house them. This requires the development of appropriate formats and tools. The Amazon Basin as a Laboratory  for the Future is an object-based pilot project that seeks to overcome disciplinary, institutional and spatial boundaries and to create digital and analogue spaces for networking, mutual understanding and communication.

By way of a close collaboration between Brazilian and German partners, the project will also involve the development of a suite of digital tools. From different perspectives, they bundle and connect information on collection objects. One of the central challenges is to convey the diverse approaches in all their complexity. The aim of this is to overcome the historical divisions between collection institutions. Disciplinary and institutional logics of organisation and classification are taken into account as well as indigenous forms of knowledge and the practices associated with them. Historical ethnographic and botanical collections from the Brazilian Amazon region serve as case studies, along with contextualising cultural-historical collections (including material such as field notes, photographs, maps, audio recordings, films and secondary literature). These artefacts, plants, and documents have been collected over the last 200 years and stored at the Ethnologisches Museum, the Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin and the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, where they have been classified, conserved and restored, and research has been carried out on them. Only a part of these extensive collections has been explored in greater depth and is digitally accessible. To date, little work has been done to link up the collections of different institutions from different regions. 

The primary aim of the project is to use the possibilities of digital formats and tools to allow people and institutions to communicate, exchange ideas and build networks that bring together a range of perspectives, knowledge practices and social contexts, in order to jointly create new forms of knowledge. This networked knowledge will be made accessible to the public, emphasizing its procedural nature through interactive formats of exploration and participation. The resulting tools will then be made freely available and can be used or further developed by other communities and institutions that are engaged in the field of participatory cultural education.

This joint project is part of the Forschungscampus Dahlem SPK, in which various SPK institutions are working together with selected external partners.


Project management: Dr. Andrea Scholz (Ethnologisches Museum)
SPK partners: Prof. Dr. Barbara Göbel, Ibero-American Institute (SPK); Dr. Patricia Rahemipour, Institut für Museumsforschung 
External partners: Prof Dr Thomas Borsch, Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum (Freie Universität Berlin), Berlin; Dr Thiago da Costa Oliveira (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin); Prof Dr Carlos Fausto, Museu Nacional Rio de Janeiro (Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
Digital partner: Prof. Dr. Marian Dörk, Nadia Zeissig, Fidel Thomet, Urban Complexity Lab (University of Applied Sciences Potsdam).
Funding: Digital Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation
Duration: January 2020 to December 2023