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

An overview page with all terms is also available.


Maji-Maji War

German colonisation led to the gradual disenfranchisement and dispossession of the population. The introduction of a "poll tax" forced large parts of the inhabitants into forced labour; in addition, the seizure of land for plantations destroyed the livelihood of the population. At the same time, the Maji-Maji movement emerged around the religious leader Kinjitikile Ngwale, in which resistance against German colonial rule gathered. The word Maji (Swahili for water) signified the importance of water for the movement, as it was ascribed spiritual significance.

In July 1905, the first attacks were launched against various representatives of the colonial system, especially in the south of the colony. The African population groups allied in the Maji-Maji movement were able to achieve some successes against the militarily superior colonial power, especially at the beginning. With the arrival of military reinforcements for the German military in November 1905, the major fighting came to an end by the beginning of 1906. The African allies, militarily outgunned in the field battle, now continued their resistance with guerrilla tactics. The German military responded with further extermination measures and applied a "scorched earth" strategy aimed at destroying the livelihood of the population. The fighting continued until 1908. According to today's estimates, the war resulted in the death of approximately 180,000 people.

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts


  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

Ministry for Culture

The Ministierum für Kultur (Ministry for Culture, MfK) was founded in January 1954 through the centralization of various roles that had previously been assumed by individual commissions, such as the →Staatliche Kunstkommission (State Commission for Art Affairs, StaKuKo). The first Ministers of Culture were Johannes R. Becher, Alexander Abusch and Hans Bentzien.

The role of the MfK was to develop a socialist national culture by promoting the creation of artwork within the socialist realism movement and the creative activities of working people (amateur art, “Greif-zur-Feder-Kumpel” movement). It was also responsible for the long-term planning and →profiling of GDR museums. The MfK was in charge of the Fachstelle für Heimatmuseen (Department of Local History Museums) in the GDR, which was directed by Heinz Arno Knorr (based in Halle an der Saale until 1963 and then in Berlin), from which the Institut für Museumswesen (Institute of Museums) emerged in 1971. Another department within the MfK was the →Kunstschutzkommission (Commission for the Protection of Art). The MfK corresponded to the departments for art, for art and culture or for art and cultural mass work at district administration level. The MfK had its own legal office where legal advisors provided museums and collections with advice on restitution issues. The relevant archival records on the MfK can now be found in the Federal Archives in Berlin (BArch DR 1, particularly HA Rechtsstelle, HA Internationale Beziehungen, Bildende Kunst / Museen / Denkmalpflege, etc., BArch DR 136 Kommission des Ministeriums für Kultur zum Schutz des Kulturgutes, BArch DR 138 Büro für den Schutz des Kulturgutes der DDR beim Ministerium für Kultur). (MD)

  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

Ministry for State Security

The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security, MfS) was founded on 8 February 1950 and structured in line with the Soviet model. It acted as a state surveillance body and secret police force to ward off any anti-communist activity. As such, it tracked serious offenses classified as "crimes against the state"; however, it also took on an increasing number of investigations into suspected crimes against the political order (especially when Erich Mielkes became the Minister for State Security in 1957). The MfS collaborated with the →Volkspolizei (People’s Police); as an "authority with its own responsibility" (O. Nuschke), however, it was not subject to any control by the parliament-like Volkskammer (People's Chamber), whereas the police force was subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior (MdI).

  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR


This term was originally only associated with Christian missionaries who were called upon to spread the Christian faith. These missions were justified by a passage in the New Testament in which Jesus calls on his disciples to preach the gospel. Systematic missionary work is also practiced by the followers of other religions such as Islam and Buddhism. There have been systematic Christian missions since the 6th century. The missionary work of the Catholic and Protestant churches has expanded worldwide in connection with colonisation and colonialism. The expansion of Catholic missionary work was aided by its importance in establishing colonial power in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas, Asia and Africa from the 15th century. The missionary work was often carried out by Catholic orders and was partly responsible for the violent destruction of religious traditions in the interest of enforcing the Christian religious monopoly demanded by the state. A Protestant missionary movement had also been developing since the 17th century; it gained momentum when predominantly Protestant countries such as the Netherlands became colonial powers. The first targeted missions emerged in the 18th century, including the Danish-Halle Mission and the Mission of the Moravian Church. In the 19th century in particular, a large number of missionary organizations were founded, contributing to the spread of missionary work around the world. As missionary work helped to establish Christian normative values and structures, it often contributed to the destruction of local social structures and was therefore an essential tool for the assertion of colonial rule. However, missionaries cannot generally be described as agents of colonialism, as some missionary organizations did distance themselves from the colonial powers and tried to combat the social effects of colonialism. Like many other actors in the German colonies, missionary organizations were involved in the collection of ethnological objects (e.g. by responding to inquiries from ethnological collections or collecting objects for their own museums). (JH)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Monuments Men

American art conservation officers of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFA&A): their military unit was founded in 1944 and became the most important in the field of art conservation. The →Central Collecting Points were organisationally assigned to the MFA&A. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

Moravian Church

This denomination of Christianity was founded around the pillars of Calvinism and Pietism during the Bohemian Reformation. The community is defined by its missionary work, which it has been carrying out around the world since 1732. When missionaries embarked to →"German East Africa" in 1891, the Moravian Church was involved in the colonial mission. The community now has around 825,000 members around the world. (JH)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts


The municipality of Mühlenbeck near Berlin was home to the guarded main depot ("white warehouse") of →Kunst und Antiquitäten GmbH (Art and Antiques Ltd., KuA), a subsidiary of the GDR’s →Kommerzielle Koordinierung (Commercial Coordination Division, KoKo) division specializing in the import and export of art and antiques. The depot housed some of its most valuable antiques, artwork and handicrafts that were intended for export – in contrast to over 100 smaller depots owned by →Antikhandel Pirna (Pirna Antiques), another subsidiary operating throughout the GDR that purchased antiques from around the country for the same purpose.

Between February and May 1990, numerous museums received financial contributions from the Ministry of Culture (MfK) to complete their collections by acquiring huge quantities of items from the liquidized assets of the KoKo division (see “BArch DR 122” for records). The previous owners of the items remain completely unknown to this day.

The Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha (Foundation Friedenstein Castle) is one example of an institution that advocates an offensive approach to these holdings requiring clarification; in 2017, it became the first museum collection to publish its items acquired from the depot in Mühlenbeck to get one step closer to a declaration of prior ownership. (MD)

  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

Museum Godeffroy

From 1861 to 1885, the →Godeffroy family business ran its own museum in Hamburg known as “Museum Godeffroy”. From the very beginning, Godeffroy had employed explorers on a full-time basis to collect natural history objects, ethnological items and anthropological pieces for the museum. The captains of the company’s own commercial fleet were also required to bring back collections from their trips. In 1863, the museum appointed a permanent curator in Johannes Schmeltz, who was later assisted by C.A. Pöhl. Together they would send the incoming objects to renowned scientists, universities and members of scientific associations to have them described and scientifically documented. The materials were then incorporated into the museum’s collection, most of which was offered for sale. For this purpose, the museum regularly published catalogs, a series of journals and other individual thematic albums, special editions and museum guides. The establishment was initially unaffected by the company’s bankruptcy in 1879, but it was dissolved in the years that followed. Numerous parts of the collection were sold to European museums, such as the Museum of Ethnography in Leipzig (Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig), the Natural History Museum in Hamburg (Naturhistorisches Museum Hamburg), the Museum of Ethnography in Hamburg (Völkerkundemuseum Hamburg) and the Museum of Ethnography in Leiden (Museum voor Volkenkunde). The successor institutions still preserve these collections to this day. Some items were also acquired by private collectors. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts