Fakultäten » Philosophische Fakultät » Sozialanthropologie und Empirische Kulturwissenschaft, Institut für » Völkerkundemuseum » Prof. Dr. Mareile Flitsch » Haslwanter

Completed research project

Title / Titel Dutch New Guinea in flux: colonialism and cultural change, material culture and
representation through the prism of Heinrich Harrer’s 1962 expedition
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Summary / Zusammenfassung This PhD research project contributes to the re-thinking and re-evaluation of colonial collecting which is currently a major concern in the anthropology of colonialism, material culture and museums. Because material objects mediate cultural encounters and connect the manifold actors involved they have the power to tell us an inordinate amount about socio-cultural change. The history of cultural encounter during the colonial era has become the focus of researchers in this field of study, who seek to understand the diversity and complexity of such encounter from thoroughly historicised, comparative perspectives. At the forefront of this relatively new approach is Nicholas Thomas at the University of Cambridge, to whose current comparative project Pacific Presences (2013-2018) this research project is linked.
After the Dutch had acknowledged Indonesia’s independence in 1949, they focused on their remaining colonial area, the western half of the island New Guinea. They had committed themselves to westernise the country and to prepare the indigenous population for future autonomy and self-determination. To ease pacification and administration of large areas, where permanent contact had only recently been established, the Bureau of Native Affairs, from 1951 onwards, employed or sponsored anthropologists like Jan Broekhuijse to conduct field studies of the diverse cultural groups. By 1962, when international pressure forced the Dutch to give up their colony, these ethnographic efforts came to a halt. Its legacy can be found in a barely used but rich archival and visual material record, in community studies, and diverse collections of ethnographic artefacts, like the collection of government anthropologist Jan Broekhuijse. But even earlier scientific expeditions, like the two undertaken by the British medical doctor, ornithologist and explorer Alexander F.R. Wollaston in 1910-1911 and 1912-1913 collected ethnographic objects and took field notes and photographs, which contain important information about the region and the people.
The present project follows the Austrian mountaineer and explorer Heinrich Harrer, who in 1962 led a six-month expedition through Dutch New Guinea. He brought back home a collection of ethnographic objects (now in the Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich), a visual record (consisting of photographs and film) and written accounts like his diary (turned into a widely read book).
By conducting the proposed comparative and historical analysis of Harrer’s collections alongside the collections made by Broekhuijse and Wollaston, this project will provide crucial insights into the socio-cultural changes and the transformation of material culture in the highlands of western New Guinea towards the end of its Dutch colonial period. By closely examining Harrer’s expedition and collection against the background of the aforementioned ethnographic legacy, I will also be able to answer more general, overarching questions concerning colonial politics, exchange relations, indigenous agency, and the politics of representation on a larger scale.
Keywords / Suchbegriffe West Papua; Heinrich Harrer; Colonialism; Colonial Politics; Dutch New Guinea; Exchange; Indigenous Agency; Museum Anthropology; Transformation of Material Culture; Ethnographic Collection; Representation; Socio-cultural Change;
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
Mag.a phil. Katharina W. Haslwanter (Project Leader)
Prof. Dr. Mareile Flitsch
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
Universität Zürich (position pursuing an academic career), SNF (Personen- und Projektförderung)
In collaboration with /
In Zusammenarbeit mit
Nicholas Thomas, Pacific Presences Project, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge United Kingdom
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Sep 2012 to Dec 2016