Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie


Postdoctoral research (2020–2022)

Realizations and Reception in the Humboldt Forum


Project leader: Prof. Dr. Sharon Macdonald

Project researchers: Irene Hilden & Andrei Zavadski


Realizations and Reception in the Humboldt Forum (ReRe) is a sub-project of Making Differences. Transforming Museums and Heritage in the 21st Century, a multi-researcher project examining ongoing museum and heritage transformation, with a focus on Berlin, including the Humboldt Forum. Making Differences has been devised and directed by Sharon Macdonald. It is based at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and is funded through Macdonald’s Alexander von Humboldt Professorship.

ReRe comprises CARMAH’s engagement in exhibition-making at the Forum, especially the Humboldt Lab (Tal Adler’s Who is ID 8470?), as well as audience/reception research (Irene Hilden, Andrei Zavadski, Sharon Macdonald). The audience/reception research understands visitors and others interacting with the exhibitions as active meaning-makers whose engagement is not only in response to what is presented. This part of the project is structured around three categories: the postcolonial, the postsocialist, and worlding (with the latter denoting the possibility of articulating and performing ‘alternative ways of being in the world’). Thus, we focus on how Germany’s histories, including its colonial past and the GDR, are figured through the completed space, what groups within the nation and beyond it are implicated in the resulting presentation, as well as who interrelates with it and in what ways.


Keywords: audience/reception research | exhibition analysis | museum, memory & postcolonial studies | thinking between the 'posts' | Berlin | Humboldt Forum




Doctoral research (2016–2020)

Absent Presences in the Colonial Archive

Dealing with the Acoustic Legacies of the Berlin Lautarchiv


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Regina Römhild (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Prof. Dr. Anja Schwarz (Universität Potsdam), Prof. Dr. Rajni Palriwala (University of Delhi)


The Berlin sound archive (Lautarchiv) contains an extensive collection of sound recordings produced and archived between 1909 and 1944. Recorded on shellac are stories and songs, personal testimonies and poems, standard texts, word lists and numbers. While select recordings from the collection and their histories have been the subject of research in recent years, my study engages with the archive by consistently focusing on recordings produced under colonial conditions. My research project differs from what would be a conventional history of the institution in that it frames its approach with different foci drawn from historical anthropology, archival theory and sound studies. With a firm commitment to postcolonial scholarship, the Lautarchiv is described as a metropolitan institution that produces and preserves colonial structures of power and knowledge. The project is concerned with sound events that render the coloniality of knowledge fragile and inconsistent, and which reveal the present absences of colonial subjects, who have found little or no place in established national narratives and collective memories. The analysis pays attention to the historical situation in which particular recordings were produced according to prescribed and scripted modes of speaking. My study counters these historical situations with three distinct contemporary modes of listening – failed listening, close listening and collective listening – that are employed to side-step the archive’s disciplinary and normative logics. The three modes of listening provide a productive contribution to current archival practice and an intervention in the heated public debate about the Humboldt Forum, where the Lautarchiv will be relocated and archived sounds will form part of the opening exhibitions.


Keywords: sound studies / sonic anthropology | historical anthropology / anthropology of Europe | collective memory / memory studies | postcolonial theory | critical heritage studies