S.M.S. Cormoran, German ‘punitive expeditions’ in Oceania and the ethnological collection of the Museum Natur und Mensch

On the connection between colonialism and ethnographic collecting

The ethnological collection of the Museum Natur und Mensch of the Städtische Museen Freiburg i. Br. (STM) preserves over 20,000 objects from Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Africa, which have been collected since the museum was founded in 1895. This makes it one of the largest municipal ethnological collections in Germany and a central institution in Baden-Württemberg. In order to promote its transparency, a digitization project was implemented in 2017/2018 to publish the Oceania collection in the STM’s online collection.

During the project, the entire Oceania collection (2,952 objects) was physically assessed in the depot for the first time, the database entries were revised, and potential approaches for primary research of the collection’s provenances were determined. The inspection of the collection and its available documentation showed that more than 1,200 objects came to the museum between 1895 and 1918, i.e. during the era of German colonial rule in Oceania.

The current project arose from this preparatory work and consists of two sub-areas. The first deals with Paul Werber und Walther Brandt, two crew members of the S.M.S. Cormoran, who collected ethnographic objects during their service assignments. The second sub-area involves basic and contextual research on the journeys of the S.M.S. Cormoran, their involvement in so-called ‘punitive expeditions’ and other military actions during the era of German colonial rule in the Pacific, and the collection activities of crew members.

A central aim of the project is to determine the circumstances of acquisition, the origin and significance of the objects that Brandt and Weber collected as Navy officers and to reconstruct their connection with the ‘punitive expeditions’ of the S.M.S. Cormoran in the region. This work will be done in close cooperation with representatives and experts from the respective societies of origin. In addition, the project also seeks to identify ethnographic objects in other collections and museums in Germany that are related to military campaigns of the S.M.S. Cormoran and to communicate results of this inquiry to the descendants of those affected by it.

The project contributes to the critical re-examination of German museum collections from colonial contexts and the connection between ‘punitive expeditions’ and ethnographic collecting. The Museum Natur und Mensch is expressly looking forward to information and tips from the public regarding the history of the S.M.S. Cormoran and their crew members.

Contact persons are the project managers:

Godwin Kornes
Phone: 0761 201-2542
Stefanie Schien
Phone: 0761 201-2544