Towards a "New Cultural World Order"? Decolonization and the restitution of cultural property, ca. 1970-1990
Associated PhD project
This dissertation project examines the debates on the possible restitution of art and cultural objects to their countries of origin as an object of decolonization and North-South relations in the period from the late 1960s to the end of the 1980s.
With their independence, numerous states in Africa and Asia demanded the restitution of art and cultural objects that had been translocated to the countries of the Global North during colonial times. Since the early 1970s, this issue has been intensively discussed in the United Nations organizations, touching claims to (cultural) sovereignty and a revaluation of the colonial past. At the same time, bilateral negotiations took place on the restitution of individual objects from mostly ethnographic museum collections. The demands of the countries of the Global South were not only directed against the last colonial powers of Europe, but also concerned the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR and Switzerland.
The project examines the emergence and development of the international debate on post-colonial cultural restitution in the forum of international organizations as well as on the national and intergovernmental level. Particular interest is focused on the prevailing discourses and narratives in those debates as well as the articulation of postcolonial identities on the part of "reclaiming" and "cultural heritage-owning" states.
The project draws on archival material from the UN and UNESCO as well as from national and museum archives of the former GDR, the Federal Republic of Germany and Switzerland. Here, a comparative perspective is intended to make clear to what extent the countries’ official interpretations of colonialism and different positions in the global political structure of the Cold War had an influence on the handling of restitution claims in Europe.
Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
E-Mail: pupeter [at] zzf-potsdam.de