Talk by Ciraj Rassool, Professor of History, University of the Western Cape
Abstract: Over the last 15 years since South Africa became a democracy, the museum category of the ‘ethnographic’ came under severe scrutiny as a fundamentally colonial category, one that is an anachronism in the project of creating an image of a democratic society. This has led to the revision of the classificatory distinction between ‘ethnography’ and ‘cultural history’ and the emergence of a new postapartheid museum field of social history. In Germany in the last 5 years, partly as a result of pressure from postcolonial activists, ethnographic museums have embarked upon processes of reassessment and reconfiguration in museums in different cities with attention to questions of provenance, ‘entangled objects’ and even the possibility of the postethnographic. Nevertheless, the development of the ‘Humboldt Forum’ as a new European museum in a reconstructed Prussian castle in the centre of Berlin has been a focus of controversy and contestation as different social forces in Germany have struggled to find an appropriate path for addressing its colonial past at a time of increased demands for restitution and repatriation of human remains and museum artifacts.