Colonized Objects and Bodies2022-06-23T10:40:42+02:00

Colonized Objects and Bodies in Europe

New challenges and new perspectives on the Decolonialization of Cultural Heritage

Würzburg, 24th and 25th of June 2022

Colonized Objects and Bodies in Europe: New challenges and new perspectives on the Decolonialization of Cultural Heritage

In both the ex-colonial and the ex-colonized worlds, visions of Africa and its colonial past have become incarcerated in stereotypes, dichotomies, and historical misrepresentation. Especially in European Cultural Heritage, we see a mixture of these ambivalent subjects and habits of lack of self-searching. But the restitution debate in Europe on cultural objects from Africa (Sarr/Savoy 2018) and the Black Lives Matter movement, which also reached Europe in 2020, have set the course for a questioning of the colonial essence of Cultural Heritage. Recent questions about history politics, cultural memory and cultural traditions are now also – and above all – debated in public. Museums, Cultural Heritage institutions, Universities with their collections and their self-image are now more than ever in the spotlight of the dynamics of a global debate.

We aim to discuss the following questions: How can Cultural Heritage be decolonized in science, society, politics and institutions in order to avoid ideological extremism? Are there national differences and similarities in Europe? Who are the actors and networks involved in defending the status quo or in decolonizing Cultural Heritage’? What are the direct and indirect consequences of unreflect and stereotypical Cultural Heritage in Europe? How can the ‘decolonialization of Cultural Heritage’ contribute to the field of development cooperation with the African continent?


The conference will be organized within four sessions:

  1. Historical misrepresentation: The concealment of colonial history in Cultural Heritage
  2. The survival of Stereotypes: Reflections on the Imaginary within Cultural Heritage
  3. University’s collection: Current states and new approaches
  4. European Museums: Restitutions and new displays


The conference is organized under the umbrella of the Coimbra Group, an association of long-established European multidisciplinary universities of high international standard.


  • Childcare can be arranged for participants with an own presentation during the conference on request.

Downloadable Files


Georgi Verbeek (Maastricht University): Colonial History frozen in Time: From ‘Royal Museum for Central Africa’ to ‘AfricaMuseum’ (Brussels, Belgium)2022-05-02T22:12:29+02:00

The prestigious Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) in Tervuren, an affluent suburb near Brussels, has probably been the most controversial ‘site of memory’ publicly demonstrating the changing postcolonial memories in Belgium. Today, the RMCA, renamed ‘AfricaMuseum’ in 2018, is essentially an ethnographic and natural history museum with a strong focus on Central Africa.  The AfricaMuseum has deep roots in colonial history. It was first built to showcase Belgian monarch Leopold II’s Congo Free State at the 1897 Brussels International Exposition.  Leopold II wanted to publicise the ‘civilizing mission’ and economic opportunities available in the colony to a wider (domestic and international) public.  Leopold’s materialized ‘mission’ would for a large extent survive the decolonization of Belgian Congo in 1960.  The museum essentially remained an institution that ‘has remained frozen in time’, as it showed how a museum looked like in the mid-twentieth century. As one of the last vestiges of colonial heritage, the museum was in need of a radical redesign, a process that started in 2013 and would only be concluded in 2018 with the reopening of a drastically refurbished building. The paper aims to look into both the accomplishments and shortcomings of the renovation process of the AfricaMuseum.  For a proper understanding of the current mission of the museum a wider contextualisation of current debates, in academia as well as in the wider public arena, on colonialism and postcolonialism in present-day Belgium is needed.

Gaia Delpino & Rosa Anna Di Lella (Museo delle Civiltà Rome): Unveiled Storages. A process on the colonial collections of the Museo delle Civiltà2022-06-23T10:43:20+02:00

Abstract: In 1923 Benito Mussolini inaugurated the ‘Museo Coloniale’ in Rome. It was not a classic ethnographic museum with scientific objectives and an evolutionary comparative approach. It was a colonial museum, planned to cover several functions, like to show African colonial dominions and colonial subjects to Italians, to narrate the colonial venture and the construction of an empire, to educate and transform Italians into colonisers. Closed for almost fifty years, since 2017 the heterogeneous collections of Museo Coloniale became part of the Museo delle Civiltà of Rome, a “museum of museums”. How to decolonize a museum established for celebrating colonialism? How to present and to communicate this collection as a national “cultural heritage”? How these colonial collections dialogue with objects of other sections of the Museo delle Civiltà, coming from worldwide? The contribution we are proposing has the aim of presenting and discussing the process of displaying the new section on which the Museo delle Civiltà is working on with a de-colonial perspective, reflecting on challenges and complexities of the future display as well its different aims. In particular, the presentation will develop two main topics: on one hand it will analyze and question the rheotic of propaganda displayed by the Museo Coloniale, on the other it will focus on how to give a public contribution – on a museological level – to the discussion on the Italian colonial past, against the public amnesia of this part of the nation’s history.

Beatrice Falcucci (Università dell’Aquila-KNIR): “Cento anni di polvere.” Collections from the former Italian Colonies in University Museums2022-06-23T10:36:44+02:00

Abstract: Recent trends in Italian colonial and postcolonial studies are pointing out the significance of a vast array of visual practices as means to mould and spread colonial discourses and knowledge in liberal, fascist and even post-war Italy (Bertella Farnetti, Mignemi, Triulzi, 2013, Tomasella 2017, Carli 2020, Baioni 2020, Mancosu 2020). Although excellent works have broached thorough analysis on discrete case-studies, a thorough reflection on the quantity of colonial collections, large or small, scattered over the Italian peninsula, is still missing. Of the almost one hundred collections housed, on display or not, in Italian museums, only a few are recognised by curators, the public and even researchers themselves as ‘colonial’. I am referring not only to anthropological-ethnographic collections, but also to botanical, mineralogical and zoological ones, which are often forgotten in the current debate about decolonialization of Cultural Heritage but are nevertheless part of the formation of a colonial imaginary, consciousness and environment. This paper aims to identify and briefly describe the colonial collections in Italian university museums, focusing then on some of the most significant collections and museums. From the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in Florence to the Museums of Zoology in Modena and Bologna, and the Museum and Botanical Garden of the University of Genoa, I will briefly reconstruct the history of the exhibitions of these collections, outlining their contemporary dimension and current state, and the projects (or lack of projects) for the future. It will be pointed out, for example, how many of these displays still have problematic inscriptions (or concepts and place names created by the colonisers) in the captions but attempts to present some displays as “metamuseums” and to change their perception by inserting explanatory panels will also be highlighted. Finally, some recent cases of requests for restitution to university museums (the case of the Zemi form the Anthropological-ethnographic university museum in Turin, for example) and the responses to them will be briefly considered.

Marketa Krizova (Charles University Prague): Emil Holub and his African collections in European museums: Heritage of colonial complicity2022-05-02T22:15:09+02:00

Abstract: Emil Holub (1847-1902) was Czech medical doctor and explorer who in the 1870s and 1880s undertook two widely publicized journeys to the interior of southern Africa. He amassed natural and ethnographic collections (including rock paintings and carvings cut out of the) that are nowadays deposited in several European museums, wrote travelogues, organized several exhibitions and lectured for the public in Europe and the United States. Holub realized his journeys not only within the frame of the belated colonial aspirations of Austro-Hungary, that was striving to raise its position among European powers, but also at the peak of the nationalist competition within the multiethnic monarchy – namely, the competition of Czechs and Germans in the Czech Lands. While he was praised in his homeland as “Czech Livingstone”, he remained in fact unknown, reduced to a caricature and few famous quotes from his reports and letters. The presentation will aspire to ascertain Holub’s motivations and opinions, and to evaluate his role for the Czech national movement and its “colonial complicity”. Also, the “second life” of Holub during the Cold War period, and the quasi-colonial strategies of Soviet politics in the Global South, will be reflected upon. But, especially, it would contextualize the collections that until the present are preserved and exhibited by the museum institutions. There can be no doubt of their scientific value and aesthetic beauty, but there is also the inescapable heritage of colonial oppression and purposeful “othering” and denigration of non-European peoples and cultures that in fact made possible the acquisition of the artefacts and their deposition in the museums. Thus, is there a possibility to “decolonize” these objects yet continue their museum presentation.

Nuno Coelho, Alexandra Balona & Melissa Rodrigues (University of Coimbra): An Elephant in the Crystal Palace. A public program on the First Portuguese Colonial Exhibition (Porto, 1934) and its legacy today2022-05-02T22:15:25+02:00

Abstract: In 1934, the First Portuguese Colonial Exhibition was held in the gardens of the Crystal Palace, in Porto. This “first lesson in colonialism given to the Portuguese people” integrated a set of political, colonial and commercial strategies of ideological legitimation of the civilising mission of Portuguese colonisation, perpetuating historiographical myths of the “good coloniser” and distorting stereotypes about colonised subjects. The “sample-exhibition” of the Portuguese Empire consisted of an official section (“scientific” exhibitions), a private one (400 pavilions of trademarks) and one of attractions (train, cable car, luna park, theater, cinema, zoo, etc.). However, the biggest attraction was a large open-air exhibition re-creating “indigenous villages” from the various Portuguese colonies. To be exhibited there, 324 people were “brought” to represent the various civilisational states that the exhibition intended to spread. This “human zoo” served to structure the reading of the “Other” according to the hegemonic Eurocentric lens. For the exhibition’s mascot, which attracted 1.3 million visitors, an elephant was chosen, materialised in a huge sculpture on the Crystal Palace and reproduced in prints and porcelain miniatures. It was this elephant that inspired and named the program An Elephant in the Crystal Palace which a curatorial team proposed in response to an invitation from the Municipal Gallery of Porto, currently operating in the same location, to develop a public program on the colonial exhibition. The program was not intended to be merely discursive, presenting a situated perspective in which curators and invited experts could have critical and creative autonomy in its production. Critically revisiting today the space that hosted the colonial exhibition with a program of activities that brought together artists, activists, academics, students, teachers and a diverse audience has become an urgent collective exercise in reflecting on an invisibilised event in the history of Porto.

Guido Fackler (University of Würzburg): Reflections from a museological perspective2022-05-02T22:15:39+02:00

Abstract: Museums and collections, as “institutions of rationalism” (Udo Gößwald), have long been focused on the materiality of the object. Provenance research, which has been placed on the political agenda in recent years as a reaction to long-lasting demands for restitution and which has expanded in content from Nazi looted property to cultural property confiscations in the SBZ/DDR to colonial contexts, is changing the way museums deal with objects in this respect. Consequently, museum interest has shifted from the object itself, i.e. from ‘classical’, purely disciplinary object research, to the interdisciplinary investigation and mediation of often complex object contexts: How did this object come into the house? Who owned and collected it? How can legal or ethical contexts of injustice be represented? By increasingly focusing on the immaterial contexts of preserved museum things, museums and collections can succeed in breaking free from the “identity compulsion of the 19th century” and repositioning themselves as decolonised “schools of alienation” and “places for experiencing alterity” (Peter Slotderdijk).

Slotderdijk’s astute dictum from 1989 currently coincides with the much-discussed demand on museums, not least in the context of restitution demands and provenance research, to show attitude and assume responsibility, to intervene as a discursive cultural institution and to question museum routines. In the main section, this article discusses how the “mediation of the invisible with the visible” (Gottfried Korff) can be realised in the museum’s field of activity of exhibiting: The spectrum ranges from the curatorial level (multi-perspectivity, reflection on authorship/authoritarian interpretive sovereignty, things as actors, new conceptual approaches) to the design level (sensitive exhibit presentations through information on demand/trigger warnings, social design) to the didactic level (comment/feedback stations, participatory elements, decolonising and post-representational educational work).

Priscilla Manfren & Marta Nezzo (University of Padova): Decolonization: the power of the painted image2022-05-02T22:15:53+02:00

Abstract: Iconographies and precise references to masterpieces of European art can today be found within globalized creations, by authors who (also) incorporate other continents’ visual and symbolic cultures. In this way some European ‘iconic’ works end up providing the plot for an encounter/clash between significant contexts which are profoundly different, giving life to alienating yet familiar images. If the citation of a painting that is accredited in Western historiography attracts a large audience, the sedimentation within it of ‘other’ traditions often remains obscured; the painting becomes the victim of a lack of curiosity, the unfortunate inheritance of contemporary visual education. Restrained by European artistic standards or, in any case, prisoner of a separation between cultures which has by now diminished, the eye is unable to ‘see’ beyond what it already knows. A completely different perspective must emerge, restoring value and equal interest to the multilateral symbolic and iconographic structures that such works propose, applying a method of ‘iconological investigation’ not only to the analysis of the modules of Western origin, but also to those of ‘other’ origins. In this vein, an ideal laboratory is offered by the work of Harmonia Rosales (American with Afro-Cuban roots). Rosales deconstructs the Eurocentric imaginary of myths while bringing forth her own multicultural background, imposing ‘figures’ where classical heritage, traces of Santeria and the Yoruba tradition mix. Her work has at times been received as a suggestive twisting of Western masterpieces, but what would happen if we evaluated its meaning from the other symbolic contexts which permeate it? How would we read Rosales if we illuminated the dark half – that is, the ‘other’ half – of her symbolic universe?  And what would remain of the concept of otherness, when faced with the results? The present work aims to be an experiment in critical decolonization of the gaze.

Emily Hansell Clark (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Decolonizing Audiovisual Heritage2022-05-02T22:16:08+02:00

Abstract: In the context of debates on restitution and reckoning with the colonial past in European institutions and societies, this paper aims to explore approaches to “decolonizing” audiovisual media archives. The restitution of objects (such as the Benin Bronzes; Hicks 2020) and human remains (such as in the Dutch project “Pressing Matter”) are current, urgent discussions for European heritage institutions. In the Netherlands, these are further contextualized by heated societal debates over Dutch traditions with colonial roots, such as Zwarte Piet, a Saint Nicolas-related practice involving blackface (Wekker 2016). While some argue that such practices are harmless relics of a distant past, others use them to point out the continued coloniality (Mignolo 2002) and racism found in contemporary Dutch society.


This paper focuses on the audiovisual heritage contained in the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (NISV). As a postdoctoral researcher on the EU-funded project Polyvocal Interpretations of Contested Colonial Heritage, I investigate the possible uses and meanings of problematic heritage from the Dutch past contained within the NISV archives. Historical media is not merely an objective documentation of the past, but constitutes images and sounds that bring past events and ideologies to life in the present. Visual and sonic tropes from the historical archive—such as colonial wars, tropical nature, cultural practices from the colonies, and even Zwarte Piet himself—still shape how we understand Dutchness and colonial difference today. An expanded conception of human remains—here in the form of images and voices of ancestors, often made nameless in the archive—further raises questions of cataloging, agency, control, and restitution. I explore how new approaches to cataloging, curating, and providing access to audiovisual heritage has the potential to engage different types of users and foster new forms of knowledge making in line with current postcolonial and decolonial critiques.

Diantha Vliet & Claire McGinn (Utrecht University): Broken Heritage Machines: affect and proximity to power in the decolonization of racialised European musical automata collections2022-05-02T22:16:22+02:00

Musical automata – luxurious nineteenth-century consumer objects – sometimes mirrored colonial claims of ownership over the bodies of people of colour, depicting racialised humanoid figures. Many such objects now reside in museums. Recent decolonial movements have also reached these collections; Museum Speelklok in Utrecht is one example. Their approach to decolonization contrasts with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s treatment of the automaton Tippoo’s Tiger, and with the Les Gets Mechanical Music Museum. We contrast the Les Gets and V&A with the Museum Speelklok, considering how a museum’s assemblage of affective presentation and institutional and local factors interact during decolonization efforts. While the V&A and Museum Speelklok are both located centrally in major cities and aim for general audiences, the Les Gets is situated in a small village, catering to special interest groups. However, affectively the  V&A evokes solemn imperial grandiosity, while Museum Speelklok and the Lets Gets evoke nostalgia, play and delight. Contemporary interpretations of racialised automata in these museums are influenced by national discourses about colonialism, social and governmental pressures, and also differing sizes, settings, and affective goals. This paper contrasts the Les Gets and V&A with Museum Speelklok, considering how a museum’s affective presentation interacts with decolonization efforts. Museum Speelklok has explicitly introduced new descriptors alongside existing displays, aiming to tell “the other side of the story”. In a space reliant on positive affect, the introduction of serious elements – attempting to contextualize the problematic objects on display – is striking. The mnemonic process is inherently affective, which is reflected in mnemonic spaces and thus also in their decolonization. These examples illustrate that a willingness to relinquish positive affect – whether childish glee or colonial pride – is crucial in effectively addressing the postcolonial problem, but may be impeded by factors such as prestige and proximity to remaining colonial power.

Yann LeGall (Technical University of Berlin): “White hunters” and their spoils of war: Retracing and reclaiming Ghanaian and Togolese artefacts and ancestors in German museums2022-05-02T22:16:34+02:00

Abstract: German-Togo, a German colonial territory which encompassed today’s Togo and the eastern part of Ghana, has been often described as a “model colony” in colonial historiography. Due a dominant discourse of success and censorship by colonial propaganda, German literature on this colony remained bare of truthful accounts on the brutal conquest of the land and its people for decades. But ethnographic collections in Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Cologne, Stuttgart, Hanover and Oldenburg house important material evidence and witnesses of this colonial violence. This paper relates the deeds of five German officers and colonial administrators still labelled as “collectors” in museum archives. By revisiting how these men laid their hands on artefacts and human remains in the northern part of the colonial territory, this paper challenges museal perceptions of the legacy of these “white hunters” (as Nayo Bruce once labelled German colonialists). It seeks to contribute to a greater acknowledgment of the entanglements between ethnography, anthropology and colonial rule. Through a critical appraisal of spoils of war from military expeditions and an “artefactual” history of loot, the paper develops a “necrography” of colonial spoliation in German-Togo that sheds new light on these scattered objects, subjects and the archives attached to them. This research on so-called “punitive expeditions” goes beyond a provenance research and calls for a reappraisal of this history both within the museums concerned and in the scientific community. Through an assessment of a round table that (will take place) took place in January 2022 where Togolese and Ghanaian colleagues were brought in dialogue with museum staff, this paper subscribes to a “relational ethics” in postcolonial provenance research that might pave the way for restitution or other future perspectives as far as these collections are concerned.

Massimo Zaccaria (University of Pavia): Restitution and Book History in Africa. A New Approach Toward the Recovery of Africa’s Printed Past2022-05-02T22:16:46+02:00

Somehow surprisingly, the debate on the restitution of cultural objects from Africa has been quite selective: the focus has gone so far to art objects, statues, documents and bodies. Other types of cultural objects have remained on the sidelines of this debate. Books, for example, were only marginally touched, this despite that for decades many of the stereotypes about Africa were conveyed by the press and, above all, when the spread of the press in many African countries occurred in the colonial period. While a history of the book in the colonial period remains an extremely rich and complex topic, this presentation focuses on a very specific type of documents: printed materials published in Africa, namely newspapers, books, periodicals, flyers and posters published in Africa during the colonial period. These are very rare materials because they were printed in few copies, with a typically local circulation and never systematically collected by libraries. While the rarity and fragility of this printed heritage makes a greater commitment to its preservation desirable, this intervention aims to discuss a possible approach to map and reconstitute this particular aspect of the African past. Parts of this African printed heritage are found in university libraries and research centers in Europe and Africa and the reconstitution of this printed heritage can only take place through a sustained collaboration between the ex-colonial and the ex-colonized countries. These creates unique conditions in which the necessity of retrieving, interpreting and preserving these documents makes possible spaces for fruitful collaborations between European and African stakeholders. Taking as an example a pilot project currently underway in Eritrea, this paper aims to present and discuss a new approach to the reconstitution of an aspect of  Africa’s Cultural Heritage based on close collaboration between research institutions in Europe and Africa. The use of digital technologies makes it possible to make the restitution operation less divisive and problematic and offer spaces for promising collaborations between African and European Institutions.


Elise Pape & Aggée Lomo (University of Strasburg): Human remains from former German colonies at the University of Strasbourg – crossed Franco-German perspectives2022-05-02T22:16:57+02:00

Abstract: Over the past years, in Strasbourg, intense debates have accompanied the unveiling of the story of the 86 Jews who were taken from Ausschwitz to Alsace following an order of August Hirt, director of the Institute of Anatomy of the Reichsuniversität Strassburg at the time. In 1944, these persons were killed in the Struthof-Natzweiler camp in Alsace before their bodies were taken to the Institute of Anatomy to be used to “complete” the anatomical collection of the institute (Lang 2013; Toledano 2016). In 2005, after much conflict on the university, communal and national level, a memorial was inaugurated on the front building of the Institute of Anatomy. Almost no research has however been conducted up to now on a lesser-known part of the collection: human remains from former German colonies. During the period of German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine between 1871-1919, at least 161 human remains from German colonies entered the collection, mostly through donations by military doctors who had worked in today’s Cameroon, Togo, Namibia and Tanzania (Ochs 1997). An international  commission has researched on human remains and objects from the Third Reich at the Reichsuniversität Strassburg over the past years and will make its results public in December 2021. We as researchers currently investigate on the human remains from former German colonies at the University of Strasbourg. In our presentation, we will address the following questions: which new approaches and pro-active policies concerning human remains is the University of Strasbourg currently developing? Which actors are involved in this process and what are commonalities and differences between them? What are French-German dynamics concerning the link between history and memory and sites of memory in a crossed perspective? How can our research project, which will focus on including the perspective of actors on the African continent, contribute to these institutional processes?

Jonatan Kurzwelly (University of Göttingen): Calcified Identities: Essentialism and identity politics in restitutions of human remains2022-05-02T22:17:11+02:00

Abstract: Essentialist assumptions about human beings lay at the core of the historical push to collect human remains in colonial time, often with explicitly racist motivations. Albeit often motivated by decolonial and anti-racist intentions, today’s handling and restitutions of human remains operate on similarly essentialist and biologized notions of people and identities. This paper examines such manifestations of essentialism related to research on, and handling of, academic collections of human remains. Historically human remains, and skulls in particular, have served to produce various forms of scientific racialization and racism, confining people to fixed notions of identities and legitimizing unjust systems of exploitation and oppression. Contemporary handling of these human remains aims to account for the problematic and violent past, examining the provenance of particular human remains, often leading to their restitution. Restitutions of human remains are usually framed in the language of spirituality, ethnic or national ancestry, reconciliation, and heritage. Despite the different political and ideological motivations of contemporary practice, it too often relies on essentialist categorization and inaccurate or erroneous assumptions. This text exposes the problematic logic of identitarian essentialism, challenges its prevalence, and reflects of the (im)possibilities of a broader social justice of such identity politics.

Rita Gaspar & Juliana Alves (University of Porto): Words matter. Can database reframing enable new perspectives?2022-05-02T22:17:26+02:00

Abstract: The Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto (MHNC-UP), Portugal, houses collections from naturalia to culturalia, gathered in the past 160 years in Portugal and abroad. These collections were constituted in a knowledge production institution – the university – but their scientific work frame changed through time. Nowadays, the existence of diverse perspectives on objects and collections in a museum is regarded as a key guiding point, as opposed to the prevalent European point of view. Semiotics stresses the importance of words and their significance. The value of such words and their significance can change through time and can be questioned. The language and narratives in our databases are, frequently, outdated and misapplied. The frame of knowledge that was used since the late 19th century has not been looked at in a critical way, nor updated in the databases. Technology enables the association of multiple perspectives and narratives to the objects and collections that are housed in our museums. Nowadays, databases allow the association of past research and its context along with resignification. But, in order to insert different perspectives and create new knowledge, it is necessary to review the collections by rethinking the current standards, like controlled vocabulary. New database software that registers and relates all levels of information, since provenance to previous research and interpretations, is of the utmost importance to correctly incorporate different narratives. The case presented here refers to MHNC-UP ethnographic collections, and the ongoing process of data revision. Some of the premises of this work include: identifying and updating of out of date and colonial terminology; and searching and associating the original designation of objects, in the language of the provenance communities. The database review aims to strengthen the connection between the data and the object, allowing the emergence of different narratives.

Bernadette Biedermann (University of Graz): Decolonizing Austrian museum collections? – On the history of Austrian museum collections from the perspective of museology2022-06-23T10:37:56+02:00

Although Austria was never colonial, the Habsburg empire was of worldwide influence for many centuries. Especially the dynastic marriage policies were characteristic to build the empire. The Habsburg collections represented the power and influence of the dynasty and were presented in early modern history Kunst- und Wunderkammer, like Ambras castle. The institution museum was mainly introduced as the large Royal museums in Vienna, the Museum of Fine arts and the Natural History Museums in Vienna, were opened also for the public.  The influence of the empire is also represented by the museum collections which is the reason why todays museum collections in Vienna are of worldwide relevance. One of the largest non-European collections is located in Vienna and is part of the Weltmuseum Wien, an ethnographical collection. Of special importance for the collection of items were also study trips, undertaken for example by Archdukes Franz Stephan von Lothringen. In this context, large collections of objects were built. This contribution will give a brief overview on the history of collecting in Austria, focusing on the former Habsburg collections that build the basis for todays federal museum in Vienna. These collections built the self-image of these museums almost for centuries.  In this context the question arises, how Austrian museums deal with the question of decolonizing. Thus, the contribution will also focus on current discourses going on in Austria in terms of decolonizing museum collection. This will be discussed also taking the theory of museology into consideration, arguing that museum collections are also expressions of special times, circumstances and persons and ask thereby the question in which way museums can transform such narratives for future generations.


To be announced in Spring 2022

The order of the abstracts follows the conference programme.

Juliana Rodrigues Alves (Porto) is a Junior Researcher at Transdisciplinary Research Centre Culture, Space and Memory/Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Porto (CITCEM/FLUP) and consulting at Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto (MHNC-UP). She has a Ph.D. in Heritage Studies – Museology, at Faculty of Arts at University of Porto (2020). Her expertise is use standards for museum collections to enable management.

Bernadette Biedermann (Graz) studied museology and art history at the University of Graz. She currently works as museologist, curator and researcher at the University Museums of the University of Graz. She is deputy-head of University Museums of the University of Graz. Her research foci are: theoretical museology, object-based research, museum documentation, museum communication and forms of museum presentation. Bernadette Biedermann is co-editor of the journal Curiositas.

Emily Hansell Clark (Amsterdam) is a postdoctoral researcher working at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on the project Polyvocal Interpretations of Contested Cultural Heritage (PICCH). She holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from Columbia University (2020) and an MS in information studies from the University of Texas at Austin (2011). Her work explores music, sound, and migration in the former Dutch colonial empire.

Nuno Coelho (Coimbra) is a Porto based Portuguese communication designer, artist, curator, professor of Design and Multimedia at the University of Coimbra, and researcher at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of the 20th Century. He holds a PhD in Contemporary Art from the University of Coimbra. He is interested in history, material culture, digital humanities, and visual semiotics and representation, working on topics related to identity and memory by exploring the politics of image-making and the archives of historic Portuguese trademarks and institutions.

Gaia Delpino (Rome) is a cultural anthropolgist specialised in African Studies and holds a PhD. Since 2018, she is curator of the African collection of the Museo preistorico etnografico “Luigi Pigorini”, a section of the Museo delle Civiltà.

Rosa Anna Di Lella (Rome) is a cultural anthropologist specialised in Museum Studies and Nord African Collections. She has been collaborating with several institutions on museographic collaborative projects. She is also a researcher at Istituto Centrale per il Patrimonio Immateriale.

Guido Fackler (Würzburg) is Professor of Museology at the University of Würzburg. He studied folklore, musicology and ethnology at the University of Freiburg. Afterwards, he worked as a volunteer at the Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe and in various positions as a research assistant in the field of european ethnology/folklore. Various positions as research assistant in European ethnology/folklore at the universities of Regensburg and Würzburg. From 2010, development and, from 2011, management of the Würzburg museology department. Research and teaching foci: Exhibitions (exhibition design/scenography/exhibition analysis); history and theories of museology; cultural education and mediation (museum pedagogy, EduCurating, visitor research); museal representation and identity constructions; collection and provenance research.

Beatrice Falcucci (L’Aquila) has earned a PhD at the University of Florence, undertaking research about the colonial collections in Italian museums. She was Italian Fellow at the American Academy in Rome and got a scholarship from Fondazione Einaudi. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at Università dell’Aquila, with a project focusing on the Colonial Museum in Rome. Her works revolve around the colonial culture in Italy, the construction of Italian national identity, and Italian and European colonial museology. She has published Il Museo Coloniale di Roma tra propaganda imperiale, oblio e riallestimento, in “Passato e Presente”, 2021, Bringing the Empire to the provinces: colonial museums and colonial knowledge in Fascist Italy, in “Cahiers François Viète”, 2021, and has co-edited Africa all’acqua di rose. I diari delle missioni in cirenaica del 1928-1929 of Nello Puccioni (Polistampa, 2019). Her book dedicated to colonial collections in Italian museums will be published in the coming months.

Rita Gaspar (Porto) is the curator of the Archaeologic and Ethnographic collections of Natural History and Science Museum of University of Porto (MHNC-UP) since 2015. As an archaeologist as developed and collaborated on national and international projects in her field and as a curator, she is also interested in the development of mediation strategies between the university, as a knowledge hub, and the public.

Markéta Křížová (Prague) is Professor at the Centre for Ibero-American Studies at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. She lectures on native cultures of Latin America, colonial history, history of cultural transfers, history of Atlantic relations, and the methods and techniques of historiography. Her academic interest focuses on the history of overseas expansion, migrations and cultural transfers, as well as intellectual history (including the history of museums and history of racial thought). Since 2022 she is also Vice-Rector of Charles University for International Relations.

Jonatan Kurzwelly (Göttingen) is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Göttingen and a research fellow at the University of the Free State in South Africa. His research and writing explore different aspects of personal and social identities, essentialism, nationalism, radicalisation, identity politics, and various experimental and collaborative research methods. He serves as a member of the executive board of the Anthropology Southern Africa (ASnA) association. Jonatan also serves as a convenor/chair of the Commission for the Study of Difference, Discrimination and Marginalisation (SDDM), of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES). Jonatan was born in Germany, grew up in Poland, and has been living an academic nomadic life for over a decade. He holds two citizenships but identifies with no national identity.

Yann LeGall (Berlin) is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Art Studies at Technische Universität Berlin. His current research project, "The Restitution of Knowledge", in partnership with the the University of Oxford, investigates colonial war booty from so-called "punitive expeditions" found in European museum collections. His PhD thesis examined memory cultures arising from the return of ancestral remains to African states and communities. Yann is also a member of the initiatives Berlin Postkolonial and Postcolonial Potsdam. He co-developed an audio guide on traces of colonial history in Potsdam, a city where he leads critical guided tours.

Aggée Célestin Lomo Myazhiom (Strasbourg) holds a PhD in history and HDR in sociology. He is Associate Professor at the University of Strasbourg as well as a member of the UMR 7069 Interdisciplinary Laboratory in Cultural Studies (LinCS) and of the Interdisciplinary Thematic Institute "Literatures, ethics and arts" (Lethica). He is a USIAS Fellow (2018-2022) and Global Associate Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (Japan). He conducts research on the history of colonization and migration in sub-Saharan Africa and in a comparative perspective on socio-history of vulnerabilities of illness and disability.

Claire McGinn (Utrecht) is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at Utrecht University, also in partial collaboration with Museum Speelklok, on a project about mechanical musical instruments. Her doctoral research took place at the University of York. In 2018 she took part in arts-science organisation “Invisible Dust’s ‘Under Her Eye’” summit, on women’s roles and experiences in relation to the climate emergency. She has also worked as a music teacher, in arts management, and in victim support.

Claudio Mancuso (Rome) is a historian, specialised in totalitarian regimes, and holds a PhD. He is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Palermo. Since 2019 he works as a cultural anthropologist at the Museo delle Civiltà.

Priscilla Manfren (Padova) is a research fellow in museology and art and restoration criticism at the Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Padova. Her studies focus on the fascist period and pay particular attention to issues related to colonialism and the exploitation of art for propaganda purposes. She tackled these subjects through the analysis of various types of sources and media. She has recently become interested in contemporary African and African Diaspora art.

Marta Nezzo (Padova) is Associate Professor at the University of Padova and teaches Art History: Sources and Methodology and Non-European Art: understanding its various forms and reception. She is the Director of the Center for the History of the University of Padova. She is especially interested in the protection of artistic heritage, during the two World Wars. Beside that, she analyzed some artists and art critics, as Pompeo Molmenti, Lionello Venturi, Ugo Ojetti, Raffaello Giolli, Rodolfo Pallucchini, Leonardo Dudreville e Mino Maccari. Moreover, she’s now interested in the reception of non-european art in Western Art Criticism.

Elise Pape (Strasbourg) holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Strasbourg and the Goethe University in Frankfurt. She is specialized in the field of sociology of migration, in socio-anthropological research and in Franco-German comparative approaches. Since 2012, she has conducted empirical research on (post)colonial memories in Cameroon, France, Germany and the United States. In 2018, with Holger Stoecker, she co-edited the special issue “Human remains from Namibia in German collections” in the journal Human remains and violence.

Georgi Verbeeck (Leuven/Maastricht) studied history and philosophy at the University of Leuven and is currently professor of German History at the University of Leuven in Belgium and associate professor of Modern history and political culture at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  His publications include studies on 20th century German history, the  theory of history, transitional justice  and the politics of memory in divided societies.  

Diantha Vliet (Utrecht) is a lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Utrecht University. Her research focuses on the postcolonial negotiations taking place Europe, through the triangulation of memory, race, and media. Current projects aim to advance Black Studies and decolonization efforts in the Netherlands through interdisciplinary approaches. She completed her doctoral research at Temple University’s Lew Klein College of Media & Communication.

Massimo Zaccaria (Pavia) is Associate Professor in African Studies at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Pavia. Zaccaria graduated in Oriental Languages from Venice University Ca’ Foscari and has obtained his Pd.D in African History at the University of Siena. From 2009 to 2011 he was Marie Curie Fellow and he has got an extensive field experience in the Horn of Africa with regular research visits in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Since 2019 is project manager of the EuropeAid Project “Digital Technologies and Cultural Heritage Preservation in Eritrea: a Framework for an Improved Action”. His principal areas of research cover the social and economic history of Eritrea during the colonial period; Islam and Italian colonialism; the history of writing and reading in the Horn of Africa and migration in contemporary Africa.

Organizing committee
Image: private

Prof. Dr. Giuliana Tomasella

Prof. Dr. Giuliana Tomasella is full Professor of Museology and History of Collecting; History of Art Criticism at the Department of Cultural Heritage at the University of Padova. She is currently the President of the University Museum Centre of the University of Padova and Vice-Chair of the Coimbra Working Group Heritage. Her research interests include the origin and the development of a scientific method in History of Art; the relationships between art and politics during the Fascist period; the revision of the concept of modernity carried out by artists and critics in the aftermath of the First World War; the role of art in the construction of the colonial imaginary.

Dr. Julien Bobineau

Dr. Julien Bobineau is Assistant Professor at the Institute for Modern Languages at the University of Würzburg, Speaker of the Forum Africa Centre and Chair of the Coimbra Group Working Group Development Cooperation. His research interests include the Francophone history, literature, politics and arts as well as colonial memory, racism and anti-colonial movements in Europa while his habilitation explores hunting ethics in the field of French and Spanish literature during the 18th and 19th century.

Image: © Jan Pauls |
Coimbra Group

Founded in 1985, the Coimbra Group is an association of long-established European multidisciplinary universities of high international standard. The Coimbra Group is committed to creating special academic and cultural ties in order to promote, for the benefit of its members, internationalization, academic collaboration, excellence in learning and research, and service to society. It is also the purpose of the Group to influence European educational policy and to develop best practice through mutual exchange of experience.

Coimbra Group

The Forum Africa Centre is an interdisciplinary association of scientist at the University of Würzburg who have been working closely with different partners in Africa for many years. One of the aims of the Forum Africa Centre is to bundle research cooperations, to build academic networks and make them better known to the public. The Young Africa Centre serves as a platform for all students and doctoral students interested in Africa and promotes interdisciplinary scientific exchange among young academics.

Coimbra Group

Location, Accommodation & Travel

The conference will take place on the Hubland Campus in the building “Zentrales Seminar- und Hörsaalgebäude (ZHSG – Z6)”, room 2.013. Signposting will be visible in the building.

Image: Universität Würzbrug

The city of Würzburg is located in the Main Valley in Germany, in the heart of Lower Franconia. Founded in the 7th century, Würzburg counts 130.000 inhabitants with a quota of 40.000 students at three higher education institutions. The main higher education institution is the University of Würzburg, the fourth oldest University in all German speaking countries, founded in 1402 and rebuilt in 1582. Since the 19th century, 14 scientists from the University of Würzburg got awarded with a Nobel prize, among them Hartmut Michel, Klaus von Klitzing, Harald zu Hausen and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. Today, 440 professors and 4.500 staff members at ten faculties teach 29.000 students in all disciplines.

Image: Universität Würzbrug

The Hubland Campus is located about 15 minutes by bus from the city centre on the eastern periphery of Würzburg. You can reach the venue by bus with lines 10 and 14 at the stop “Am Hubland” or with lines 114 and 214 at the stop “Hubland / Mensa”. In principle, you can obtain tickets on the bus from all drivers and from the vending machines. Due to the current Covid situation, it is not yet possible to buy tickets from all bus drivers, so we recommend buying a ticket from one of the vending machines.


The city of Würzburg offers a large selection of good mid-range hotels in the city centre and in the immediate surroundings of the venue. The following list contains only a selection:


By train:
High speed trains run hourly from Frankfurt, Hanover or Munich. Arrival is at Würzburg main station.

By plane:
Air travel is possible via the international airports in Frankfurt am Main, Nuremberg and Munich, which are easy to reach from Würzburg by train (Frankfurt: 1.5 hours; Nuremberg: 1.5 hours; Munich: 3 hours).

By car:
Würzburg is ideally located next to the motorways A7 (Munich – Hanover), A3 (Nuremberg – Frankfurt) and A81 (Stuttgart).

The University of Würzburg and the organizers welcome a sustainable and eco-friendly journey of all participants.


As we cannot estimate the development of the Covid pandemic situation for the event period, the conference will take place in hybrid form. Participation is possible on-site in presence or remotely as the entire conference will be streamed online via Zoom. The private policy of the University of Würzburg’s Zoom license can be viewed at the following link:

If you would like to participate in the conference program in person or digitally, please register using the form below. Digital participants will receive a Zoom access link by e-mail before the start of the conference. For organizational reasons, registration is possible until 22 June 2022.

Participation in the conference is free for interested persons who do not give an own presentation, except for the conference dinner and lunch. Digital participation is also free of charge.

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