Accepted paper:

Repatriating the ethnographic archive: a future task of the WCAA


Karl-Heinz Kohl (J.W. Goethe University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses how the many unpublished records stored in the ethnographic archives of the formerly colonizing states can be made accessible to the indigenous peoples to whom they belong as part of their own cultural heritage and which role WCAA could play for achieving this goal.

Paper long abstract:

The older repatriation debate in anthropology focused mainly on human remains and objects of material culture. Yet the UN Declaration of 2007 goes still a step further by also confirming the right of indigenous peoples "to practise and revitalize their culture tradition and customs" by maintaining and protecting the "past manifestations of their culture". To the international community of anthropologists, this represents a serious challenge, since most historical knowledge on traditional non-literate cultures is stored in Western libraries, museums and ethnographic archives. Especially important are the still unedited written and audiovisual records of travelers, missionaries and early anthropologists. They often contain ethnographic information that was dropped out of scientific publications because it did not fit to classical evolutionist, diffusionist or functional theories, but has become very precious for current endeavors to reconstruct indigenous cultures' histories and former ways of life. In my paper, I want to discuss the possibilities to make these documents accessible to the indigenous peoples who actually own them as a part of their own cultural heritage. This seems to be especially important for historical ethnographic records that are not written in contemporary world languages as English, Spanish or French. A worldwide network of anthropological associations as WCAA in which scholars from colonizing and colonized states are working together could be an ideal platform for developing strategies to accomplish this task.

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The past and future of the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA Tenth Anniversary Symposium) CLOSED