Mirjam Linschooten: The Story Called Ethnography: Between Displaying the Past and Constructing the Future in the Ethnographic Museum

Advisor/tutor: Bassam El Baroni
Arnhem, June 2017


This thesis articulates some distinct associations between formal ethnographic diplay aethetics, political ideologies, museum narrative and theories. Taking important moments of transition in the exhibition history of the Tropenmuseum as a case study, I will connect its display choices to Dutch cultural policies in order to unfold what have been the visual strategies for the display of ethnography and how these have enacted political movements in the past. As such, it is an attempt to look at the different ways that the Other has been represented and observed, making the observer the object of study.

The ethnographic museum holds an interesting paradox. It encourages and capitalizes on feelings of patriotic and nationalistic pride, through collections of which none of the content is domestic. Nonetheless, these collections merged out of a colonial moment and this entanglement enables them to now speak not one, but two tales: next to their original purpose and culture, a new layer emerges as the story of European culture and purpose: the reversed side.

Understanding the story called ethnography as a European cultural story and not the universal or scientific story, can help to articulate a multidirectional story that takes a position from outside of ethnography that can open up to new perspectives. Following the method of ‘working through,’ outlined by Jean-Francois Lyotard, I propose a rewriting of the museum and the story called ethnography in a way that understands this power dynamic, and is more inclusive.