Rendering the Past: Layered Memories and Palace Politics in the Remaking of Berlin
Sharon Macdonald (York/Humbolt)
14 March 2018, 4pm - 5.30pm
Rendall Building, Lecture Theatre 7
Which pasts make it into the present and future – and why? Which are plastered over and which are plastered on?
In this year’s Collinson Lecture, Sharon Macdonald explores the contested memories, aesthetics, historiographies and cultural imaginaries being currently played out in Berlin’s historic centre. These converge in the building of a partial reconstruction of Berlin’s former city palace – the Stadtschloß – which will house the Humboldt Forum, a high-profile museum and culture complex, due to open in 2019.
Directly on the site of the former Stadtschloß, the reconstruction is of the palace in Baroque form, when it was the residence of the Prussian monarchs and then, following Germany’s first unification, the nation’s emperors.
The palace resurrection is highly contested for reasons that the lecture will analyse. Disputes include those of architectural reconstruction versus new design, and of the politics of demolition – first of the former Stadtschloß under the GDR regime and then of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic on the same site post-unification. They continue into the Humboldt Forum contents, including the colonial entanglements of displaying objects from the ethnological and Asian art collections, and questions about which pasts – and which groups within the city today – to include in an exhibition about Berlin itself.
Giving attention to who is involved in the ongoing processes, and to the nature of those processes themselves, the lecture will not only highlight how the past is being rendered in the present but also what kinds of legacies and potentials - including for historiographic reflexivity - the remaking of Germany’s capital might render for the future.
Sharon Macdonald is Alexander von Humboldt Professor in the Institute of European Ethnology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where she established and directs the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH). She also holds an Anniversary Professorship in the Department of Sociology at the University of York.
She is currently leading a team of researchers to conduct a multi-sited ethnography of transformations of museums and heritage in Berlin; as well as other projects to explore the use of art in dealing with contentious museum collections, and how the contemporary everyday is being collected for the future. Her previous publications include Difficult Heritage. Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond (2009) and Memorylands. Heritage and Identity in Europe Today (2013).