restricted access 3 Losing the Monopoly
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CHAPTER 3 Losing the Monopoly E ven though Felix von Luschan grew increasingly impatient with commercial agents in German New Guinea, he could expect little sympathy from fellow German museum officials. Faithful to the Federal Council Resolution achieved by Bastian, Luschan defended the monopoly position of his African and Oceanic division on scientific grounds. Only the Berlin Ethnological Museum, Luschan maintained, had the qualified personnel to sift through artifacts from the German colonies of Africa and the Pacific leading to informed publication. Yet actions spoke louder than Luschan’s esteemed words. As accumulated colonial artifacts turned Luschan’s division into a fire hazard rather than a temple of learning , other German museum officials quickly geared up to attack Berlin’s monopoly. Their efforts took a two-pronged approach. On one hand, kind words and an increasing flow of state decorations to residents of the German colonies lured collectors away from the Berlin museum. On the other hand, Luschan’s lack of ethnographic dissemination provided a firm intellectual platform for calls for decentralization. Under increasing critique, including, much to his chagrin, criticism from his own superiors, Luschan decided to reevaluate his line of thinking. Partially inspired by his experiences with commercial collectors in German New Guinea, Luschan argued for a collecting activity that emphasized qualitative rather than quantitative criteria. This way the Berlin Ethnological Museum might lose the quantitative edge over other museums in Germany, yet he maintained that sharply delineated collections, backed by concise monographs, would maintain the museum’s lead in the scientific exploitation of the German colonies. Where other museums displayed mere curiosities, Berlin’s hallways and storage areas would be filled with ethnographica, whose indigenous meanings had been determined by trained anthropologists in the field. In short, the competitive atmosphere among German museums set in motion prominent methodological steps that would in turn influence the colonial periphery in German New Guinea. 50 THE GROWING DISCONNECT BETWEEN THEORY AND PRACTICE Felix von Luschan saw the Berlin Ethnological Museum as the premier German institution. Only in this fashion could Luschan justify continued centralization of colonial artifacts in his division. He argued that centralizing ethnographic specimens enabled the Berlin museum to provide a unified picture of the German colonies. For him, the main threat to scientific investigation lay in the fragmentation of colonial ethnography, which he attempted to prevent at all cost. Lifting the resolution of 1889, he argued, would intensify such fragmentation. Several regrettable instances of fragmentation already existed. Luschan cited the dispersal of the collections resulting from James Cook’s famed eighteenth-century expeditions as well as those following Britain’s punitive expedition to Benin in 1897 to underscore his point.1 Fragmentation was counterproductive, especially since the centralization effort in Berlin aided not only the German ethnological community but also colonial administration. Luschan was less explicit on how ethnology and empire interacted, but he emphasized that knowledge was indeed power. Luschan hoped to make the centralization not a Prussian but rather a universal German agenda. Science became a patriotric enterprise.2 In this sense, Luschan believed in more focused collection activity, and he issued detailed collecting instructions for the German colonies.3 In 1897 Luschan prepared a short list of collecting instructions for the German colony of Togo, which he forwarded to colonial officials in other German colonies as well.4 By 1899 his efforts coalesced into a more general collection guide.5 While Luschan’s directives for collecting were loose and flexible, he encouraged local collectors to refrain from mere accumulation of artifacts without proper documentation: “[S]imply collecting . . . objects is not enough. In the end one can collect spears and shields just like beetles and butterflies; information on place and time is sufficient. Not so with things connected with religious ideas: in these cases it is paramount to know all the possible meanings of each single piece.”6 While Luschan professed to do more than the mere hoarding of artifacts , conditions in his division told a different tale. By the turn of the century, it was painfully obvious that the facilities in Berlin were inadequate to accommodate the growing number of ethnological collections reaching the institution. Luschan’s own African and Oceanic division illustrated this quite well. Over a twenty-year period (1886–1906), the number of artifacts increased tenfold and left Luschan scrambling for alternatives.7 Moreover, overcrowding at the museum forced intervention by local authorities, who deemed it a fire and safety hazard. The closure of the museum was imminent unless stairs and...


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