restricted access 1 Berlin’s Monopoly
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CHAPTER 1 Berlin’s Monopoly G erman imperial expansion to Africa and Oceania increased the possibilities for anthropological research. Although the founder of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, Adolf Bastian, openly opposed colonial expansion and annexation, he did not fail to see the possibilities for research emerging from German imperial ventures. Bastian and his assistants at the museum saw the import of Oceania and New Guinea for anthropological endeavors. Supposedly isolated for centuries, Oceanic regions promised unspoiled cultures that were fit to salvage and display in museum hallways. This “salvage” project, however, also required Bastian and Berlin’s future director of the African and Oceanic division, Felix von Luschan, to engage the very agents who threatened the cultural continuity of Oceanic cultures. In short, the ethnographic frontier needed to interact with the colonial periphery. Such interaction could hardly avoid an intersection with German colonial projects. This engagement brought about a split between theory and practice of ethnographic collecting that would ultimately inform the development of the anthropological discipline in Germany. This chapter chronicles how Bastian and his caretaker Luschan attempted to control German colonial agents’ collecting practices. This practice did not fail to trigger resentment among other museum officials not affiliated with the Berlin institution. THE ADMINISTRATIVE CONTEXT IN BERLIN In 1886, on a cold mid-December morning, the Berlin Ethnological Museum (Völkerkundemuseum) held its opening ceremony. This event occurred almost directly because of an increase in spending by the Prussian Ministry for Cultural Affairs. The opening of a new museum was a rare event in Berlin during the first half of the nineteenth century, although this state of affairs would soon change. The Old Museum (Altes Museum) opened its doors in 1830; its expansion, the New Museum (Neues Museum), opened in 1855 to accommodate among other things a large Egyptian collection. The 12 New Museum also housed until 1885 the ethnographic collections. After the German unification of 1871, the construction of new museums accelerated. Construction of the National Gallery (Nationalgalerie) was completed in 1876, and in 1881 the Museum of Art (Kunstgewerbemuseum) was ready for occupancy. Other museological projects, especially the large museum complex located on an island in the river Spree, were under way before the end of the century. Given the ever expanding museological landscape in Berlin, the opening of the ethnological museum must have seemed a rather unremarkable event for the notables attending the ceremony. Indeed, the unification of Germany following 1871 triggered a wealth of administrative changes that placed Berlin’s museums on a par with those of other European capitals. Wilhelm I, king of Prussia and German emperor, appointed his son, Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, as protector of the royal museums in Berlin. By this move, Wilhelm I hoped to direct the political aspirations of his son.1 Partially inspired by his more artistically inclined wife, Friedrich Wilhelm put much energy into this project. Unfortunately for him, he could not draw on broad German national resources to restructure Berlin’s cultural landscape: the German constitution granted the pursuit of the arts and sciences to the empire’s individual states. Although the amount of money appropriated to support the creation of museums in Prussia was rather small in comparison to other endeavors, Prussia, with almost two-thirds of the German population as well as over half of the empire’s land surface, was able to command larger financial resources than its smaller counterparts.2 The establishment of a number of different museums in Berlin led to an ever increasing administrative jungle. Museum administration was an inherent part of the Prussian Cultural Ministry, headed by the general museum director (Generaldirektor), who was normally appointed by the German kaiser. He in turn oversaw the work of the individual museum directors, while approving and disapproving their individual acquisitions. Prevailing individual attitudes in such leading positions could thus greatly influence the cultural policies of the Berlin museums. Guido von Usedom, the general director of the Berlin museums between 1872 and 1880, serves as a prominent example. Usedom was not a trained art historian but a close associate of the Prussian court. Nicknamed “gypsum-pope” by the museum directors under his department, Usedom followed an outdated mid-nineteenth-century museum practice. Instead of purchasing originals to increase the collection of sculptures of the German capital, he argued that a good gypsum copy could serve as an adequate replacement. With the ascendancy of Friedrich Wilhelm as protector of the different museums in Berlin, this policy underwent a drastic change. In 1880...


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