I am a museum curator with a background in cultural studies. My curatorial work and publications deal with questions of colonial history and postcolonial memory, history of photography and visual culture, and history of sciences. Recently, I curated the special exhibition German colonialism. Fragments past and present (2016/17) at the German Historical Museum, Berlin, which closed in Mai 2017.
The visitor book is the only object in the exhibition that I, as the curator, did not know before. It comprises around 700 pages with multiple entries that hold in many cases very strong opinions. Together with Larissa Förster we will tackle the visitor book as a site where the contested memory of German colonialism is performed. Even if only a small fraction of the 135,000 visitors decided to actually inscribe themselves, the visitor book provides a source in its own right, in so far as visitor reactions manifest themselves independently of any researcher’s agenda.
Our research’s objective is not an evaluation of the exhibition, and it is less concerned with the impact of curatorial strategies. Rather, our close reading explores how authority over the exhibition theme is asserted and negotiated, how visitors position themselves in respect of their biographies and identities, and which addressees can be distinguished (reading public, museum, curator, the German state). Furthermore, we will question with what visitors’ expectations on colonial historiography or museums frequently collided in the case of German colonialism. Fragments past and present.
Ever since my involvement in the exhibition Bilder verkehren, which reflected upon picture postcards in the visual culture of German colonialism in 2004/5, I have been engaging with questions of exhibiting and remembering colonialism during a decisive decade: In this period of time, these issues have considerably gained momentum, and eventually entered the German Historical Museum as a one of the major exponents of official/national German memory culture. In light of this, I am especially interested in how the visitor book entries indicate the persistence of revisionist ideologies, whether they relate to the present, and express connections to the broader context of German memory culture.