Explanations of terms from the field of provenance research and Proveana's four research contexts.

An overview page with all terms is also available.



In the 1860s, the Hagenbeck family opened an animal shop with animal shows on Spielbudenplatz in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. In 1866, it was taken over by Carl Hagenbeck, who expanded the business into one of the largest animal trading companies in the world and finally relocated it to Neuer Pferdemarkt in Hamburg. Hagenbeck also started to organize →human zoos in 1874. When Hagenbeck opened its “Tierpark” on 7 May 1907, it became the world’s first zoo without bars in the Hamburg district of Stellingen. The zoo, now known as “Tierpark Hagenbeck”, is located in the same place and is still owned by the family. Human zoos continued to be held on the zoo grounds until the 1930s. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Hamburg Colonial Institute

The “Hamburg Colonial Institute” (Hamburgisches Kolonialinstitut) was the first state university in Hamburg. The city had already considered founding its own university in the 19th century, but it was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the opportunity arose to establish the new Chair of Colonial Science planned by the →Imperial Colonial Office (Reichskolonialamt) in Hamburg due to its strategically favorable standing in “overseas trade” and to establish an institute intended to improve the training of future personnel for the German colonies. The institute was founded by the Hamburg Senate and Hamburg Parliament by virtue of a law passed in 1908.

While the teaching was initially focused on training people for work in the colonies, the institute soon developed into a general research center for foreign studies, although the number of students fell far short of expectations. There were lessons in ethnology, history, German studies, English studies, Romance studies, and the language, culture and history of East Asia, the "Orient", Africa, Japan, India and Russia. These subjects were joined by physics, geography, geology, mineralogy, astronomy, zoology, botany, tropical medicine, economics, public law and philosophy. In order to contextualize the topics covered in the lessons, a central collection point was set up for documents and information from the German colonies, which was soon expanded to include the entire world economy. The scientific institutes and their academic tasks continued to exist after the First World War and laid the foundations for today’s University of Hamburg. The central collection point also continued to exist and was integrated into the German National Library of Economics (ZBW) in 2007. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Hamburg South Seas Expedition

Between 1908 and 1910, the "Hamburg South Seas Expedition" (Hamburger Südsee-Expedition) was organized from Hamburg to the German colonial areas of Oceania, a region known as the “South Seas” at the time. The expedition was funded by the “Hamburg Scientific Foundation” (Hamburgische Wissenschaftliche Stiftung). A team of scientists (ethnologists, anthropologists and physicians) set out in a chartered steamer and spent two years exploring the Bismarck Archipelago and Caroline Islands. The results were published in around 30 volumes, becoming one of the most successful and renowned research projects in Oceania. The preserved documents and a large part of the objects collected on the expedition (see also →"anonymous purchase") are still kept in what used to be called the “Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg” (Hamburger Völkerkundemuseum), which has been renamed the “Rothenbaum Museum – Cultures and Arts of the World” (Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt). The expedition is a good example of the bridge between scientific research and colonial interests. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Herkunftsgesellschaft (community of origin)

The term “Herkunftsgesellschaft” (sometimes also “Urhebergesellschaft”) has emerged in recent years as a German-language alternative to the term “source community” coined by Peers/Brown (2003) in the English-speaking museum world. The latter has been increasingly criticized, not least because of its naturalizing connotations. Other terms are now preferred in English-speaking circles, such as “community of origin”, “creator community” and “heritage community”.

In the debate about collections from colonial contexts, these terms denote the society / community whose members (e.g. artists, craftspeople) had created, used and owned the objects before they were acquired and museumized by Europeans, as well as the society / community whose members consider themselves to be the descendants of those who once created, used and/or owned the objects. Such terms take into account the fact that the present-day nation-states in the Global South – the so-called “countries of origin” of museum objects – were only created in the course of colonization / decolonization; sub-national groups (e.g. indigenous communities, ethnic minorities) therefore demand independent access to their cultural heritage and a right of disposal. When evaluating attributions to ethnic and cultural groups, which were proposed by European collectors and curators in the colonial period and have found their way into European museum inventories, great attention must be paid to the respective sources, which often reflect colonial knowledge systems, stereotypes and reductions. (LF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Human remains

In post-colonial discourse, the term human remains usually refers to the anthropological collection of skulls and skeletons from around the world. They were assembled by European and North American institutions as early as the 18th century and were mostly the subject of →racial studies. The items were almost always collected against the will of those affected or their relatives, whose descendants were later also often unable to prevent the remains from being subsequently examined or exhibited. Already at the time of collection, active protests from the respective communities existed. They have developed into widespread political movements demanding the return of the remains since the 1960s and 70s, especially in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada. As a result, numerous items have been returned from Germany since 2010 (e.g. to New Zealand, Australia, Namibia, Japan and Hawai'i).

In ethnological museums, for example, the debate also revolves around mummies from Egypt and South America, as well as shrunken heads from South America and ancestral skulls from Papua New Guinea. These collections might also inlcude hair or finger and toe nails; sometimes as parts of cultural artefacts. It is also still debated whether depictions or casts (e.g. of faces) should be considered part of the “human remains”. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Human Zoo

In the mid-19th century, human zoos emerged as a mass phenomenon in which non-European performers served up an “exotic spectacle” for European audiences. They were made to present customs, dances and everyday occurrences that were thought to be typical of their homelands. In order to drive ticket sales, the shows were promoted with advertisements and posters that presented the stereotypes of the time. Only a few performers actually came from the German colonial territories and often did not come from the regions from which they were billed. The motivation of the performers – and the way they were treated by their exhibitors – varied greatly. While some had been abducted from their homelands and shipped off to Europe against their will (particularly in the early years), there were also those who embarked on the trip in pursuit of their own (e.g. political) interests and who saw their own performances as a sort of profession for which they were paid and recruited with appropriate contracts (particularly in the later years). Some of the objects in ethnological museums date back to the ethnological shows. This includes objects that were made by the performers as part of their presentations but also items that were in their possession and given away, sold or left behind after their death. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts