Provenance research

Each object has its own history, from its manufacture to its accession in a museum; in some cases, the story even goes beyond that, for instance when objects are returned to their country of origin. Of the 340,000-odd objects in the MKB’s collection, some are only a few years old, while others were made several thousand years ago.

The first ethnographic objects arrived at the MKB in the 19th century, and its collection continues to grow.

Thousands of individuals and organizations collected and supplied items, and with their donations, purchases, or bequests they contributed to the growth of the collection. Objects from around the world were acquired in a variety of circumstances: they were excavated, gifted, exchanged or purchased – even appropriated as looted or stolen goods.

In anthropology, provenance research is concerned with how ethnographic objects entered the world of museums. Among other things, it deals with the claims made on objects from different sides, with the diverse ideas concerning their meaning and the value assigned to them.

Focus of political attention

While examining the history of objects has always been an element of the work in ethnographic museums, recent debates have shifted provenance research into the political limelight.

Through archival research, object analysis, and in collaboration with partners in the countries of origin, we seek to shed light on ownership relations and collection contexts. Ethically sensitive objects such as ancestral remains take precedence, as do items acquired in illegal contexts such as during the age of European colonial rule.

The Georges and Mirjam Kinzel Fund enables the MKB, among other things, to fund provenance research as part of its Fellowship MKB scheme. Provenance research requires additional funding, however – as already approved once by the Federal Office of Culture (FOC).

Findings are to be published on this website.

Current projects (with others to follow):