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Course, academic year 2023/2024
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Decolonising the Museum: Provenance Research and the Politics of Restitution - YMSKA51
Title: Decolonising the Museum: Provenance Research and the Politics of Restitution
Guaranteed by: Programme Anthropological studies (24-KOA)
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Actual: from 2023
Semester: summer
E-Credits: 5
Examination process: summer s.:combined
Hours per week, examination: summer s.:2/0, MC [HT]
Capacity: 20 / unknown (20)
Min. number of students: unlimited
4EU+: no
Virtual mobility / capacity: no
Key competences:  
State of the course: taught
Language: English
Teaching methods: full-time
Teaching methods: full-time
Note: course can be enrolled in outside the study plan
enabled for web enrollment
Guarantor: doc. PhDr. Zuzana Jurková, Ph.D.
Teacher(s): Dr. phil. Melanie Janet Sindelar, M.Sc.
Class: Courses available to incoming students
Co-requisite : {The course under this code is intended for MA level students. BA students interested in this course need to enrol the BA level code that begins with "YB".}
Incompatibility : YBAJ211
Is incompatible with: YBAJ211
Annotation -
Last update: Bc. Jakub Kvizda (07.12.2022)
This course will introduce students to recent debates on decolonizing museums by focusing on two core aspects: provenance research to understand the biographies of objects and their rightful owners or authors, and secondly, processes of restituting/repatriating objects. Students will be introduced to strategies of decolonization and actively engage with the social life of objects, their pasts, and their futures. The course centers around the call by art historian Bénédicte Savoy and economist Felwine Sarr on the restitution of material culture looted during colonial times and what restitution must entail to become effective. Students learn to assess current debates on restitution and provenance research also in light of earlier concerns articulated by art historians, anthropologists, and post-colonial scholars. As part of the seminar, students will be introduced to provenance research by exercises and case studies in which they will have to conduct research on objects themselves, as well as discuss current – and formulate new – strategies for decolonizing museums. The course will also feature an excursion to the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures.
Last update: Bc. Jakub Kvizda (30.01.2023)

The course centers thematically on the following debates:

• The Repatriation of Ahayu:da Zuni War Gods

• Colonial Violence and the Benin Bronzes; Benin Dialogue

• Nazi-looted art and provenance research: the Gurlitt case; Washington Principles

• Collection and Acquisition histories at the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures, restitution and provenance research, excursion

• The trade with artifacts: The “tribal art” auctions across European auction houses

• The looting(s) of Palmyra: iconoclasms and trade through ISIS/Daesh

• Dialogues with communities: the Pitt Rivers Museum and contested objects

• Collection history of central european ethnographic museums

and other topics.


Exact list of relevant literature will be provided during the seminar.

Hicks, Dan. 2020. The brutish museums: The Benin bronzes, colonial violence and cultural restitution. London: Pluto Press.

Smith, L. T. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd ed.). London, UK: Zed. Introduction, chapters 1–4.

American Association of Museums. 2005. Vitalizing memory : international perspectives on provenance research. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.

Asad, T. 2002. From the History of Colonial Anthropology to the Anthropology of Western hegemony. In The anthropology of politics: A reader in ethnography, theory, and critique. Joan Vincent, ed. Pp. 133–42. Blackwell anthologies in social and cultural anthropology 3. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

Clifford, J. 1997. “Museums as Contact Zones,” in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 188-219, 360-63.

Collective, M. 2018. From Institutional Critique to Institutional Liberation? A Decolonial Perspective on the Crises of Contemporary Art *. October 168:227.

Demissie, F. 2009. Displaying colonial artifacts in Paris at the Muse Permanent des Colonies to Muse du Quai Branly. African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 2:211.

Feigenbaum, G. 2012. Provenance : an alternative history of art: Los Angeles, Calif. : Getty Research Institute.

Lonetree, A. 2012. Decolonizing museums : representing native America in national and tribal museums. First peoples : new directions in indigenous studies. Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press.

Mirzoeff, N. 2017. Empty the museum, decolonize the curriculum, open theory. Nordic Journal of Aesthetics 25(53).

Petropoulos, J. 2017. Five Uncomfortable and Difficult Topics Relating to the Restitution of Nazi-Looted Art. New German Critique 44(130):125–42.

Sarr, F. 2016. Afrotopia. Paris: Philippe Rey.

Sarr, F., and B. Savoy. 2019. Die Rückgabe des afrikanischen Kulturerbes. 1. Auflage. punctum. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz Berlin.

Savoy, B. 2018. Die Provenienz der Kultur: Von der Trauer des Verlusts zum universalen Menschheitserbe. 3. Auflage. Fröhliche Wissenschaft 135. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz Berlin.

Savoy, B., C. Guichard, and C. Howald, eds. 2018. Acquiring cultures: Histories of world art on western markets. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Schorch, P. McCarthy,C., and Hakiwai, A. 2016. "Globalizing Māori Museology: Reconceptualizing Engagement, Knowledge, and Virtuality through Mana taonga." Museum Anthropology 39 (1):48–69.

Tinius, J. 2018. Awkward Art and Difficult Heritage: Nazi Collectors and Postcolonial Archives. In An anthropology of contemporary art: Practices, markets, and collectors. Thomas Fillitz and Paul van der Grijp, eds. Pp. 130–45. London: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Wood, P. 2012. Display, Restitution and World Art History: The Case of the ‘Benin Bronzes’. Visual Culture in Britain 13(1):115–37.

Course completion requirements
Last update: Bc. Jakub Kvizda (30.01.2023)

The course will involve class discussions on readings, class-presentations, excursions and a final essay.

The course activities are divided into the following categories:

Active participation 32%

* participate in discussions (8%)

* take protocol of one class discussion (8%)

* museum excursion / visit (8%)

* submit notes on the museum excursion / visit (8%)

Presentation & Excerpt 32%

* give one class presentation (16%)

* provide one excerpt of a reading to be discussed in class (16%)

Final essay 36%

* submit an idea for a final essay (8%)

* submit a final essay (2500-3000 words) (28%)

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