Research & teaching

The curatorial research associates working at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin are not restricted in their research to their own respective institutions, but conduct cross-collection, multidisciplinary work. In these interdisciplinary research projects, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin cooperates on both a national and international level with universities, colleges, academies, and other non-university research institutions, such as in the newly formed ‘Collaborative Research Centres’ and ‘Clusters of Excellence’ in Germany. In all projects undertaken, the research fields and topics relate, in any way imaginable, to the historical collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and its history.

The collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin serve as a sprawling ‘knowledge archive’ that has enormous potential for the development of cross-institutional research in the humanities and social sciences. The investigations can and often do transcend the SMB’s own collections to examine wider artistic, historical, social, and cultural issues by way of the objects to hand.

Communicating research findings, in short knowledge transfer, represents another key task performed by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. As a ‘university of things’, the Staatliche Museen thus supports the training and advancement of young scholars. A large number of our curatorial research associates and conservators are active in university teaching and involved in introducing the next generation of museum professionals to research on and with the objects. The museums thus serve as channels for the sharing of important specialist skills. 

The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has been involved in the Cluster of Excellence ‘Topoi – The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations’ since 2007.

TOPOI examines how the fundamental categories of knowledge and space were formed and transformed in ancient societies. The Museum for Prehistory and Early History, the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Institute for Museum Research, and Museum for Islamic Art are all also represented in the projects underway in second phase of the Cluster of Excellence, which commenced in November 2012.

The Museum für Vor - und Frühgeschichte is investigating iron as a raw material in terms of both its geographical and temporal spread, from Anatolia in the third millennium BC to its use in areas north of Central Europe in the fourth century BC. The investigation includes the spread of the technologies associated with iron as well as the cultural upheavals it triggered. For Topoi A-5 details click here

The Museum für Vor - und Frühgeschichte is also involved in a project exploring the production and distribution of pottery. Drawing on finds from one of the largest known prehistoric settlements in Europe, in modern-day Romania, researchers are examining ceramic artefacts as part of ancient economic history. For Topoi A-6 details click here.

The Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung is participating in a research project exploring the economic conditions that prevailed in the ancient Egyptian planned city of Tell el-Amarna. To draw up a comprehensive overall picture of the economic structure of Tell el-Amarna, researchers are tracing the supply routes of agricultural goods within the city itself and the wider national and international supply network, which saw the city linked with the Eastern Mediterranean, the Levant, the Near East, and places even further afield via sea routes over the Red Sea. For Topoi A-6-9 details click here.

The Institut für Museumsforschung and the Museum für Islamische Kunst are involved in exploring the communication of archaeological research in the museum setting. At the heart of their project are architectural fragments from Sasanid and Islamic periods. For Topoi A-6 details click here.

The Ethnologisches Museum is involved in TOPOI with projects on the perception and mapping of typography in Mesoamerican cultures. 

The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz are significantly involved in the doctorate programme Ancient Objects and Visual Studies (AOViS) from the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS).

Under the umbrella of the Berliner Antike-Kolleg, a multidisciplinary centre for research on antiquity, the BerGSAS is located at two separate campuses, belonging to the Humboldt- Universität and Freie Universität respectively. It was jointly conceptualized by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, in particular its largest subdivision: the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The graduate school offers young academics interdisciplinary educational opportunities in five doctoral programmes.

The AOViS programme, supervised by the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, offers places to PhD. students conducting research in the field of the material culture of ancient civilizations. In this, the first practice-oriented doctorate programme of its kind in Germany, researchers do not only explore individual cultural regions, timespans, research topics or methods. The underlying thread throughout their work is more the study of the actual objects themselves. Primarily supervised and created by the Antikensammlung, the programme places an emphasis on visual studies (Bildwissenschaft), conservation, archival, museological and digital concerns, as well as legal and political ramifications surrounding objects, their retrieval, display, and preservation. It is supervised and created by various institutions and collections belonging to the Staatliche Museen, including the Antikensammlung, the Ägyptisches Museum, and the Ethnologisches Museum. The dissertations usually centre on the investigation of artefacts or groups of objects and are complemented by extensive practical work.

The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is involved in the Humboldt-Universität’s Cluster of Excellence ‘Image Knowledge Gestaltung’ through two of its divisions: the Kunstgewerbemuseum and Kunstbibliothek.

The Cluster of Excellence is devoted to examining, from a cross-disciplinary perspective, image-creation procedures, knowledge structures, and the interdependency of the two.

The Kunstgewerbemuseum and Kunstbibliothek bring to the projects their expertise in visual studies as well as their extensive collections. In the project ‘Genesis and Genealogy’, the Kunstgewerbemuseum examines the relativity of natural and artificial forms. Taking vegetal ornamentation in jewellery, furniture, and architecture and the changes in its appearance in artworks through the Gothic period, Art Nouveau, up to Green Design, the project investigates the ideological, aesthetic, and functional importance of model forms derived from the natural world.

The Kunstbibliothek is leading a pilot project which entails the critical, interdisciplinary examination of the painting collection in the Lipperheide Costume Library (totalling some 700 objects on fashion and costume history from the period 1450–1900). The project aims to develop new strategies for research collaborations involving the fields of art history, the history of fashion, natural sciences, information technology, and communication design.

With the project ‘Antiquity in the Museum’ (German title: ‘Antike(n) im Museum’), the SMB’s Antikensammlung acts as partner to the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Transformations of Antiquity’.

‘Transformations of Antiquity’ unites eleven social-science and humanities subjects on offer at the Humboldt-Universität, as well as one from the Freie Universität with the external project partners of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The Collaborative Research Centre examines the constitutive functions that antiquity serves in informing the European knowledge society and its disciplines, as well as antiquity’s role in shaping cultural identities and self-constructs in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and the modern day. Further areas of investigation are the artistic, literary, translational, and medial forms of these transformations. The Collaborative Research Centre’s primary goal is the multidisciplinary contextualization of productive appropriations and transformations of antique art forms and sciences.

The Antikensammlung’s other project, ‘Classification and Pluralization: Antiquity in the Museum’, examines the museum of the 19th and early 20th century as a transformative site for antiquity. The museum is here understood as a ‘laboratory’ for classifying archaeological artefacts, whereby the cataloguing, display, and experience of the material legacies of different cultures brought about a pluralization of ‘antiquity’. Against the background of the emergence of alternative and competing images of antiquity in the 19th century, the project searches for possible shifts in the hierarchy of object classifications and their implications for the design and underlying purpose of museum displays. Particular emphasis is placed on concrete design measures and classification methods that are explored in their scientific, cultural, and social contexts.

The optional module ‘Art History/Museum’ offered by the Masters in Art History course at the Technische Universität (TU) Berlin is a joint initiative of the university and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The programme focuses on both research and praxis, providing a new generation of academics with an additional qualification for a future career in museums. The module explores the duties and responsibilities of those working in the international art scene and the organisation of exhibitions, in the media, and in areas related to education and the communication of art.

In addition to the regular programme, the module includes special seminars on museum theory and history, on material culture and work in museums and on curatorship organised jointly by the Institut für Kunstwissenschaft und Historische Urbanistik and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Taking the core areas in teaching and research at the TU Berlin and the outstanding collections of art and cultural heritage as well as the expertise of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, students are made familiar with the challenges facing art historians working in museums and as curators. The programme agreed by the TU Berlin and the Staatliche Museen puts the focus on issues relevant to museums and exhibiting, and especially encourages the dialogue between museum and university.

Participating collections