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One History-Two Perspectives: Culturally specific modes of representation of the “exotic Other” at the Pacific Northwest Coast

One History-Two Perspectives

Culturally specific modes of representation of the “exotic Other” at the Pacific Northwest Coast

The project is made possible by the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung.

Duration: 1st of April 2009 until 31st of March 2012


The research project aims to find new ways of conveying the “cultural Other” and to thereby enhance the conventional educational approaches in museums. The project “One History- Two Perspectives” is to be viewed in the context of the Humboldt-Forum, currently the most important museum project in Germany. The future Humboldt-Forum is going to be dedicated to non-European art and culture and its exhibition is going to be based in part on the collection of the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin. To this day, it has been the Ethnological Museum which has shaped the representation of the “cultural Other” in Germany. Objects from its collection will also fulfill this purpose in the Humboldt-Forum.

The empirical approach of our research project is based on the assessment that the present ethnological collection is significantly influenced by earlier assumptions, that artifacts were relics of “authentic” cultures which were doomed to disappear. This still is reflected in the manner objects are displayed and how they serve as a depiction of the “Other”. From today’s perspective we are required to rethink this approach and to seek alternatives for this global and social predicament of translating the "cultural Other".

In the objective to develop an alternative reading of the existing collection of the Ethnological Museum, the research project will focus on the extensive and in many ways informative collection of the American Northwest Coast. This specific collection is not only an exceptional resource to investigate the complex 'histories' of globalization, but it provides excellent premises for cooperative approaches with artists, artist initiatives as well source communities.

According to the project's objective the primary phase of the research will be dedicated to the study of change within the economical, socio-cultural and artistic interrelations at the Northwest Coast. The focus lies on the aspect of translation of the "cultural Other" as well as trade with material goods which were and still are employed in this context. In this sense our research aims at a thorough analysis of the various "contact cultures"- a research objective, which we by no means understand to be reduced to indigenous cultures. Rather, we also want to study trade cultures and their influence on the region through their "Terms of Trade".


The project will be divided into three sections, which do not only reflect the socio-economic relations on the Northwest Coast, but which also concentrate on the specific strategies of translating the "cultural Other".

“Reificated” Other (Brüderlin, Etges, König): The first focus concerns the incorporation of the Northwest Coast into the trans-pacific and global trade from the early contact and colonial periods on. Thereby, we will specifically concentrate on the curios and souvenir market and its role in the communication of the "exotic Other".

 “Scientificated” Other (Hatoum): The second focus lies on the examination of the phenomenon of the "ethnographic artefact" and its trade within the context of the emergence of museum ethnology at the end of the 19th century. The development of a scientific translation of the "Other" will be the focal point in this discourse.

 “Artificated” Other (Bolz and König): The third aspect will focus on the development of the modern ethnological art markets (trade with “original” ethnographic artefacts, reproductions and modern art) in the second half of the 20th century, which do not only serve as an expression of cultural equality, vitality and self-determination, but which also touch upon the political dimensions of the cultural terms of translation.


The collection of the Ethnological Museum can be studied in respect to all three listed foci, but it is not surprising, that the objective under which most artifacts were collected was within the context of scientificating the “Other” (Jacobsen 1881-83, Schulze 1882, Krause 1881, Boas 1887). In contrast, we see the necessity for a broader approach and application of more diverse terms of translation.

The achievement of such a comprehensive approach will be the objective of the second phase of the project, during which we will concentrate on the cooperation with representatives of Northwest Coast source communities. With this collaborative pilot project we want to conceptualize a script with new forms of presentation and translation of the collection for an exhibition module in the Humboldt-Forum. We want to explore and present in detail the variety and evolvement of views of the parties engaged. Our project “One History-Two Perspectives” roots in the conviction that new ways of presenting museum collections with broader perspectives are needed in the current global context. Long-term cooperation with source communities, artists and museums as well as a modification of the narrative perspectives are essential to this approach.