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Transregional Museum and Heritage Studies

The expansion of European empires and the systematic mapping of the world prompted the creation of extensive collections and the building of modern museums. At the same time, academic knowledge production was differentiated into disciplines and their respective categorization tested in the colonies, assigning to people forms of “law”, “economy”, “politics”, “religion”, and “art”. This double process of canonisation and its various processes of exclusion has been described by Bruno Latour as the "cleansing work of modernity", which continues to be constitutive for the institutional structures of research and educational institutions, archives and museums.

To the extent that these structures perpetuate unequal access to epistemic, social, economic and ecological resources, they are at the centre of intense social debates. A reorientation is demanded to enable equal cooperation between the Global North and the Global South, and to foster a more democratic coexistence in the post-migrant societies of today. With the call for a new relational ethics (Sarr/Savoy 2018) museums and their colonial collections have moved to the centre of public debates about (post)colonial continuities, persistent racism and more equitable participation. Like museums, universities face the challenge of decolonising their structures and practices and developing new forms of knowledge production, participation and cooperation.

The interdisciplinary field of critical heritage studies explores these dynamics and investigates the epistemological, social and political conditions under which the past is reconstructed, and the present and future are renegotiated. Enmeshed with national identity politics and international governance structures, the preservation of heritage has become a contested arena within and between societies of the Global North and the Global South.


Work on and in critical museum and heritage studies at the Global South Studies Center is structured into three cross-cutting themes:

In the first area Knowledge, the epistemic foundations of the heritage disciplines are examined and collections and their history scrutinized with regard to alternative epistemic practices and forms of knowing.

In the second area, Sociali-es, processes of inclusion and exclusion are explored and possibilities for a comprehensive decolonisation and democratisation of museums, collections and heritage sites discussed.

In the third area, Ecologies, the more-than-human forms of co-existence in the Anthropocene are examined through a new survey of museums, collections, and (natural) heritage sites to put colonial and post/colonial extractivism into focus.


Currently there are two working groups that operate in wider national and transnational networks.


Transforming Knowledge-Practices of Restitution explores situated knowledge practices of restitution that are currently developing in a variety of situations that are intertwined with, but located outside of, Europe. These knowledge practices tend to be complex, conflictual and transformative. They multiply and decentre the ways in which restitution can be thought and develop a variety of critiques of the reified cultural orders that colonialism produced (Comaroff & Comoraff 1991) and that continue to shape ongoing restitution debates and practices in Germany and Europe today.


A second working group, provisionally entitlted Material Culture & Heritage, is envisioned to study how material cultures of the past are positioned in the present world. It investigates the interplay of practices, infrastructures and narratives that lend meaning to the past. A focus is placed on geographical areas that face the epistemic and institutional legacy of colonialism, with a specific interest in local contexts of heritage practices and knowledge making. The working group is designed to bring a range of subject areas into dialogue, including archaeology, ancient world studies, social anthropology, history, and literary studies.


Coordination: Prof. Dr. Richard Bußmann


Further members of the GSSC cooperating on Transregional Museum and Heritage Studies are: Dr. Stephan Millich (Islamwissenschalen) (…to be completed)