Where is the object from? Who did it belong to? How did it enter the collection? Nowadays, hardly any curator can avoid dealing with these questions before exhibiting or acquiring works of art or other cultural objects. Provenance has become an essential factor for public acceptance of the legitimacy of holdings in national museum collections worldwide as a consequence of two broad trends. On the one hand, a broad consensus on Nazi-confiscated art was reached in 1998 and expressed in the Washington Principles. On the other hand, there have been numerous heated public debates in recent years about the unlawful or unfair appropriation of cultural assets and the possible restitution of such items.1 Concern about the origins of objects is growing for libraries and archives too. Thus, provenance research has become a globally sought-after discipline.
From a report by Jason Farago on a noteworthy exhibit at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, Germany:
By and large, “Mobile Worlds” delivers on its contention that European museums need to do much more than just restitute plundered objects in their collections, important as that is. A 21st-century universal museum has to unsettle the very labels that the age of imperialism bequeathed to us: nations and races, East and West, art and craft. It’s not enough just to call for “decolonization,” a recent watchword in European museum studies; the whole fiction of cultural purity has to go, too. Any serious museum can only be a museum of our entangled past and present. The game is to not to tear down the walls, but to narrate those entanglements so that a new, global audience recognizes itself within them.
See the whole piece in the New York Times.
This post is part confession and part revelation.
When Simone Lässig approached me about collaborating on migration and the history of knowledge, I immediately agreed. I began writing about German scientists and the production of knowledge over twenty years ago, and much of my current work involves migrants. Taking part in the GHI effort offered me an opportunity to think more systematically about the production of migrant-oriented knowledge and its implications for my studies of German communities across Latin America.
In the first week of October 1932, an International Conference on Migration Statistics was held in Geneva. Over the course of five days, some thirty statisticians from twenty-six countries discussed how to produce more reliable international migration statistics. This kind of methodological discussion about statistical standardization was not at all unusual in the new world of international organization. Since 1920, the standardization of statistics had become an ordinary activity in the “Palace” of the International Labour Organization and the League of Nations in the hills above Lake Geneva.
The International Conference on Migration Statistics offers particularly interesting insights into the historical attempt by international organizations to measure the world. On the one hand, “international migration” was not yet a category in scholarship and policy making. It was an international invention intended to bring together the existing categories of “emigration” and “immigration.” Before this time, these last two categories were perceived as two fundamentally separate phenomena. Perhaps more plainly than other objects targeted by statistical analysis, “international migration” was connected to the effort to construct a new international understanding of the world after the Great War.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the concept of the “knowledge society” (Wissensgesellschaft ) rapidly gained in popularity among social scientists and politicians in Western countries. The concept referred to a socioeconomic system that was no longer organized around the manufacture of material—especially industrial—goods but instead around the production of knowledge, expertise, and highly specialized skills. The prominence of this perspective was strongly influenced by the experience of de-industrialization in Western Europe and North America in the last third of the twentieth century, with former sites of industrial production being dismantled and the so-called service sector rapidly gaining in importance. Closely linked to emphasis on the relevance of knowledge in the twenty-first century was concern with educational models that seemed to be outdated because they were rooted in the industrial paradigm of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was in this context that school and university curricula were revised and “modernized” so that they would match the technological demands of postindustrial societies. These efforts were driven by the understanding that the international standing of formerly industrial countries and regions depended on their ability to supply and apply the skills and expertise needed to compete in an increasingly global economy.
Victorian London can be seen as multiple cities at once: the imperial metropole par excellence, where different political visions clashed in the course of establishing and governing the British Empire; the thumping heart of global capitalism, busily circulating capital from one corner of the world to another through its formal securities markets and in private deal-making; and the origin point of the modern network of interconnected “learned societies.” Flandreau, formerly of the University of Geneva and now the Howard Marks Chair of Economic History at the University of Pennsylvania, nimbly navigates the history of these three different Londons in Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science.
The history of organized youth has much to offer scholars interested in processes of knowledge formation and dissemination. This is particularly true of an organization as easily recognizable and widely influential as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Popular culture in the United States is replete with images of cheerful Scouts roaming the woods or helping strangers in need. Among the more popular fictional representations are the Junior Woodchucks, which the Disney cartoonist Carl Barks created in 1951 to poke gentle fun at some aspects of Scouting. The Junior Woodchucks’ Guidebook, a satirical take on the BSA’s Handbook for Boys, appeared as a magical reservoir of knowledge that provided information on every conceivable subject, but was small enough to fit into a Junior Woodchuck’s backpack.
On February 10 and 11, we held a conference entitled “Mapping Entanglements: Missionary Knowledge and ‘Materialities’ across Space and Time (16th–20th centuries).” Broadly speaking, the conference posited that what we know about missionaries is not the same as what we know from missionaries, and it aimed to examine the history of the latter under the rubric of “missionary knowledge.” Accordingly, conference participants explored how missionaries produced knowledge as well as how this knowledge traveled and transformed from generation to generation and location to location. By tracing a wide variety of missionaries’ cultural productions, including writings, maps, drawings, and collections of objects, participants mapped the terrains in which missionary knowledge transpired—within, but also beyond the purview of the distinct missions in which it originated.