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

An overview page with all terms is also available.


Imperial Colonial Office

Between 1907 and 1919, the Imperial Colonial Office (Reichskolonialamt) was the central authority responsible for administering the colonies held by the →German Empire. Until 1890, German colonial policy had been regulated by a department within the Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt); a separate Colonial Department (Kolonialabteilung) was then formed, which was still based in the Foreign Office but was now directly subordinate to the Chancellor. The headquarters of the →protection force (Schutztruppe) were added to the department in 1896 after previously forming part of the Imperial Naval Office (Reichsmarineamt). The Imperial Colonial Office, founded in 1907, was also directly subordinate to the Chancellor. The institution was replaced by the Imperial Colonial Ministry (Reichskolonialministerium) in 1919, which was primarily concerned with the handling of the former colonies after the First World War. The preserved files of the Imperial Colonial Office are now stored in the Federal Archives. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Indexing of archive material

This term describes the arrangement and recording of archive material so that it can be used for research purposes. The items in an archive are grouped into a hierarchical structure, which is usually based on the respect des fonds principle. They are sorted according to their origin or provenance. This can be contrasted with the principle of pertinence, whereby archive material is grouped according to subject matter. A finding aid in which all items in an archive are structured according to strict archiving standards is a form of indexing that facilitates preliminary searches for relevant documents. The indexing of archival holdings is essential for provenance research, as it enables effective searches. If an item has not been indexed, it cannot be identified, located and used. The public archives in Germany are organized according to the federal system at national, regional and municipal level. The hierarchical structure of the regional and municipal archives are different in each federal state due to the provenance principle, as the political and state structures and authorities have been organized differently over the course of history. In some cases, historical archive material that is relevant to provenance research is yet to be indexed. Here, the German Lost Art Foundation can provide project funding for thematic indexing. (SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution
  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war
  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR
  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Landesarchiv Baden-Württemburg (Hg.): Archivporal-D. Glossar, (letzter Zugriff 02.12.2020).

Individual research

If a cultural heritage institution (e.g. a library or museum) receives a →request for information or a →restitution request for an item in its possession from third parties (presumed legal owners or their legal representatives), the provenance of the item in question must be investigated. This is usually sponsored by the German Lost Art Foundation in the form of short-term project funding. (SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution

Initial check

This is a specific type of project funded by the German Lost Art Foundation. Small cultural heritage institutions (e.g. local history museums and town libraries) often lack the necessary funds and resources to adequately prepare for provenance research (i.e. to carry out preparatory work to apply for funding from the German Lost Art Foundation) or to examine their own holdings. In such cases, regional associations (e.g. library and museum associations in the federal states) can apply with the German Lost Art Foundation to conduct an initial check at a selection of their associated institutions. This format is used to assess the need for provenance research, to identify items suspected to have been confiscated by the Nazis or have been acquired in colonial contexts, and to explore the starting point and sources. The initial check results in an individual recommendation for further action, which may then form the basis for an application for a →systematic investigation of collection holdings. As the initial check format was conceived by the former for the context of Nazi-era loooted art by the former Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzforschung and the Museumsverband des Landes Brandenburg e.V. in Brandenburg, it is also known as the “Brandenburg Model”. Initial checks are now carried out in numerous federal states with short-term and long-term funding from the German Lost Art Foundation. In the area of collections from colonial contexts, it is also possible for individual institutions to apply for an initial check. The evaluation criteria here are the personnel or financial resources, the (non-) available specialist expertise, or the size of the collection itself. (SL, SF)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution
  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Institut für Schiffs- und Tropenkrankheiten

When the “Institute for Ship and Tropical Diseases” (Institut für Schiffs- und Tropenkrankheiten) opened in the city of Hamburg in October 1900, the naval physician Bernhard Nocht, who had previously been working as a port physician, was appointed director. He had proposed the idea of founding an institute for tropical medicine to treat patients arriving in Hamburg with tropical diseases (seafarers and colonial employees), to research the relevant diseases, and to train naval physicians and other practitioners for the German colonies.

The institute had to alter its course after the First World War, scrapping the training of colonial doctors and its projects in the colonies and instead focusing more on research projects in Central and South America. After changing its name to the “Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine” (Bernhard-Nocht-Institut für Tropenkrankheiten), it is now the largest German research institute for tropical diseases. The institute’s clinic was affiliated with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in 2006. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts