Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Margareta von Oswald

Working through colonial collections. ‘Africa’ in the Humboldt Forum.

Die Dissertation wird im Rahmen einer Co-tutelle zwischen der Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Soziales (EHESS) und der Humboldt Universität Berlin durchgeführt.

Erstbetreuung: Sharon Macdonald (HU)
Zweitbetreuung: Béatrice Fraenkel (EHESS)

Beginn der Promotion: 2014 (ab 2016 an der HU),

Abgabe geplant Ende 2019. Förderung durch den DAAD, die Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Social und das International Scholarship Program der Staatlichen Museen Berlin


This research project takes the current transformation processes of ethnographic museums in Europe as its point of departure to think about the persistence of and dealing with colonial pasts in the present. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted within Berlin Ethnological Museum’s Africa (2013 – 2015), and in particular the preparations for the new permanent exhibitions to be integrated in the Humboldt Forum, a much contested cultural centre to open on the capital’s Museum Island in 2020. How do the museum’s colonial legacies show and make themselves felt in the museum’s everyday? How are the legacies confirmed, reflected, and challenged within the museum? The analysis of the Humboldt Forum’s making of shows how the transformation and move of the museum has incited change on a representational level, addressing its colonial legacies on a national level. The analysis points above all, however, to the ongoing challenges of working within a museum which has been shaped by colonial ways of thinking and doing the world. Traversing the museum’s different responsibilities - from exhibiting, to researching, to keeping, to conserving – the thesis not only reveals the museum’s multiple, sometimes problematic, and contested histories but focuses on how the museum’s legacies inform today’s practices in its everyday.



anthropology of colonial legacies, ethnographic museums, German colonialism, Africa, Europe





2007- 2010 Studium der Sozialwissenschaften am Institut d’Etudes Politikums Bordeaux, und an der Universität Stuttgart

2010-2012 Studium der Anthropologie an der Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales und der Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris