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Hans Peter Hahn


Hans Peter Hahn is Professor of Anthropology with special focus on Africa at Goethe University of Frankfurt /M. His research interests are oriented towards material culture, consumption and the impact of globalization on non-western societies. He edited a book on “Ethnologie und Weltkulturenmuseum” (Vergangenheitsverlag, Berlin 2017), focussing on the history of museums with ethnographic collections. He is principal investigator in a research programme on virtual interfaces on museum collections (2017-2020), where the perception of things in their digital representation is under study. Until recently, he was speaker of the research training group “Value and Equivalency” at Goethe-University. In this context, he participated in the organization of several exhibitions on human action and materiality. Other ongoing research initiatives are linked with polysemic approaches to material culture studies. HP Hahn’s recent publications include an edited volumes entitled “Obstinacy of Things” (Neofelis 2015) and “Things as a challenge “(transcript 2018).


Material objects that have travelled through epochs gain special attention firstly because of their longevity. Of comparable importance are secondly the recognizable specificity of forms, their temporal continuities and regional clustering. As obvious as these contexts are, as ambiguous is the related interpretation. At least two approaches compete for dominance; each of them is taken into service for quite different contexts of interpretation.

The logic of the national museum uses as its dominant reference the continuity of a society and culture that is often given the label of a “nation”. The perspective of the “world cultural heritage”, on the other hand, is committed to a cosmopolitan perspective that sees very different groups, but also individuals, as producing outstanding objects. Whereas the first is part of the logic of belonging, the latter gives priority to the idea of “achievements on mankind”.

Both cases are to be understood as ways of appropriating the past. These arguments use a narrative defined from the present as an instrument for colonising the meanings of these objects. For sure, this is common practice and as such hardly can be criticised. The political consequences of such a colonial usurpation of the past should be seen as highly problematic, however. What new forms of legitimisation of nationalisms of the 21st century are drawn from such objects? How is it possible to redefine such objects so that they build bridges instead of separating?