Commodities, Curiosities, and the Display of Anthropological Objects

in Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2001 | ISBN: 9780226983417
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226983462 | DOI:
Commodities, Curiosities, and the Display of Anthropological Objects

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To retain the bodies and possessions of the colonized for their science, anthropologists had to prevent them from entering the popular European culture of exotic spectacles, a culture that had claimed these objects long before the opening of the museum. Presenting colonial objects to the public gaze, however, also placed these museum pieces in an uneasy relation with the burgeoning consumer culture of Berlin. Even though museum curators dismissed this culture of commodities and curiosities as “mere voyeurism” (bloße Schaulust), fundamentally different from their own scientific interests, the very idea that humans could be known by the objects that they possessed was informed by commodity fetishism. The museum sought to stabilize oppositions between science and mass culture, museum objects and consumer goods, and anthropology and the humanistic disciplines. However, the very success of the museum made it an arena in which these oppositions, as well as the basic project of anthropology, could be challenged by its visitors, its political patrons, and by a new generation of anthropologists, trained in the museum.

Keywords: exotic spectacles; museum; colonial objects; public gaze; consumer culture; mass culture

Chapter.  8846 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Anthropology

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