Hermann Parzinger beim Humboldt Lab Tanzania

A Major Comprehensive Plan: Avoiding Piecework


reading time: approx.  min

With regard to dealing with colonial legacy in Germany, what must still be done politically before the Humboldt Forum opens?

Many measures have already been discussed by politicians, museums, and the public. I have something like a ten-point plan in mind:

Hermann Parzinger beim Humboldt Lab Tanzania

Hermann Parzinger at the Humboldt Lab Tanzania © SPK / photothek.net / Florian Gaertner

1. Provenance research on the colonial collections in German museums needs increased funding and personnel.

2. Documentation on objects in collections and their acquisition must be completely digitized to make the information accessible around the world.

3. Universities need to establish courses on provenance research with a focus on colonial objects.

4. There needs to be a central office that compiles the results of provenance research and makes it accessible online. It could be located, for example, at the German Lost Art Foundation.

5. The criteria for restitution need to be harmonized between the Länder and the Bund, the states and federal government.

6. The return of human remains after researching their origins should be a matter of consensus and have priority.

7. Cooperation with researchers from the countries of origin is urgent and a residency program should be set up to intensify it.

Hermann Parzinger bei der Rückgabe von Grabbeigaben an die Chugach Alaska Corporation
Hermann Parzinger handing over objects to the Vice President of the Chugach Alaska Corporation, John Johnson © SPK / photothek.net / Felix Zahn

8. A structural fund is necessary to support the partner museums in countries of origin in terms of capacity building and training.

9. Internationally recognized principles based on the Washington Principles for dealing with colonial legacies must be drafted.

10. The Humboldt Forum needs a suitable place for informing the public and commemorating the victims of colonialism. A competition to find a suitable design could be held.

All ten measures would need funding, but the parameters for museum action also need to be set. Both can only be achieved on a political level between the Bund and the Länder. Individual measures will remain piecework: we need a major comprehensive plan.