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Dinosaurs in Berlin

Gerüst im Sauriersaal zum Aufbau des Brachiosaurus Brancai in den 1930er Jahren. Back to top

Dinosaurs in Berlin

Brachiosaurus brancai as an Icon of Politics, Science, and Popular Culture

December 6 2018, 7.30 p.m.: Book launch "Dinosaurierfragmente" (in German)
 

For almost eighty years now, one of the world’s most prominent scientific objects has been towering over the Berlin museum scene: the skeleton of Brachiosaurus brancai, which has been on display in the Museum’s atrium since 1937, was excavated from 1909 onwards in colonial German East Africa – present-day Tanzania – by palaeontologists from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde. The finds bear eloquent witness to the Jurassic period and remain one of the world’s most important palaeontological specimens. As museum objects, they also attest to the chequered history of the twentieth century. Discovered during the colonial era of the German Empire, they were prepared and subjected to its earliest scientific analysis under the Weimar Republic, presented to the public during the Nazi era, placed into storage in the Museum’s basement in 1943 for safekeeping, returned to public view in 1953 in the then-divided city, and finally re-analyzed and reassembled in 2007 on the basis of the latest scientific findings and reconstruction techniques. Thus Brachiosaurus brancai is an object of global significance that spans geological eras, political entities, nations, cultures, and academic disciplines.

The project focuses on the role of Brachiosaurus brancai as an icon of politics, science, and popular culture in the hundred years from its excavation to the present day. Three closely linked sub-projects are devoted to studying the political, scientific, and museum history as well as the function and presentation of those world-famous palaeontological finds.

Research Areas

1. Excavation and Its Post-History: Berlin’s Brachiosaurus as a Political Object - Dr. Holger Stoecker
This sub-project, which is based at the Institute of Asian and African Studies at Humboldt-Universität, examines the excavation and its subsequent history from the perspectives of African studies and the history of science. Its primary focus is on the dinosaur’s meaning as a political object in the context of colonial history in the period from 1900 to the 1930s. Click here for more information.

2. Berlin’s Brachiosaurus as an Object of Knowledge - Dr. Marco Tamborini
Based at the Museum für Naturkunde, this sub-project studies Brachiosaurus brancai as an object of knowledge. It examines the significance of the finds for the development of paleontology, studies the strategies of authentication that were used, analyzes forms of inscription, explores the history of paleontological reconstructions and revisions, and investigates the macroevolutionary debate of the first half of the 20th century.Based at the Museum für Naturkunde, this sub-project studies Brachiosaurus brancai as an object of knowledge. It examines the significance of the finds for the development of palaeontology, studies the strategies of authentication that were used, analyzes forms of inscription, and explores the history of palaeontological reconstructions and revisions. Click here for more information.

3. Berlin’s Brachiosaurus as a Museum Exhibit and Object of Popular Culture - Mareike Vennen
This sub-project is located at the Institut für Kunstwissenschaften und Historische Urbanistik of the Technische Universität Berlin. It focuses on the Tanzanian finds as museum exhibits and objects of popular culture and explores international presentation practices for displaying dinosaur fossils. The time periods studied by this sub-project are the most important phases of the visualization and public imagination of this fossil: the excavation years, the first museum display, and the subsequent reconstructions. Click here for more information.

Past Events

September 6-7 2018
International Workshop "Politics of Natural History. How to Decolonize the Natural History Museum?"

PDF icon flyer_politics_of_natural_history_web2.pdf

18 July 2017
Evening Talk: James Delbourgo about "Collecting the World. Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum". Further information:PDF icon flyer-collectingtheworld.pdf

21st-22nd November 2016
International conference: "Working on Things: On the Social, Political, and Economic History of Collected Objects"

Keynote lecture and other talks of the conference are available at https://lisa.gerda-henkel-stiftung.de/.

Programme: PDF icon flyer_working_on_things.pdf

Abstracts: PDF icon abstracts_cvs_working_on_things.pdf

Conference proceedings (in German)

See photos below.

21st November 2016
Film and reading at the dinosaur hall of the Museum für Naturkunde as part of the series "Filmwelten der Wissenschaft":
"Knochenarbeit. Oder: Dinosauria museologica"

10th-11th March 2016
Workshop: "Dinosaurier in Berlin. Museums-, wissenschafts- und afrikawissenschaftliche Perspektiven auf die Geschichte des Berliner Brachiosaurus brancai, 1906-2015"

Programme (in German): PDF icon dinosaurier_in_berlin_maerz-workshop.pdf

Proceedings

 

The Debate about Brachiosaurus brancai

Brachiosaurus brancai has been the most prominent find in the excavations from Tendaguru over a hundred years ago and a major focus of political and public interest ever since. Recently, media interest mainly focused on the political context of the acquisition of the dinosaur fossils.

Provenance research is an essential part of the joint project Dinosaurier in Berlin. Brachiosaurus brancai - eine politische, wissenschaftliche und populäre Ikone (Dinosaurs in Berlin. Brachiosaurus brancai as an icon of politics, science and popular culture). The circumstances around the acquisition of the fossils are investigated by Dr. Holger Stoecker within the sub-project at the Seminar for African Studies at Humboldt-Universität. The research results will be published by Wallstein Verlag in December 2018.

Press echo (mostly in German):

Duration

3 years (04/01/2015 - 10/31/2018)

Cooperation Partners

The research project is carried out in cooperation with the Institute of Asian and African Studies and the Cluster of Excellence Image Knowledge Gestaltung of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and the Institut für Kunstwissenschaften und Historische Urbanistik at Technische Universität Berlin.