The Archaeology of the Imperial Past: “Nostalgizing” in the German and Turkish Museums of the Interwar Period


  • Sebastian Willert Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture - Simon Dubnow


nostalgia, museum studies, colonialism, imperial archeology, Germany, Turkey


Until 1918, representatives of the Königliche Museen zu Berlin (Royal Museums of Berlin, now State Museums of Berlin) and Istanbul’s Müze-i Hümayun (Imperial Museum, now the Istanbul Archeological Museum) excavated, extracted, and exhibited antiquities as part of their countries’ imperial projects. The material culture of past civilizations was used as a symbol of both empires’ imperial grandeur and territorial power. With the end of World War I, German and Ottoman archaeologists lost access to territories where they formerly acquired objects for their collections while previously transferred artifacts remained in the collections. After the empires collapsed and republics emerged in their place, German and Turkish museums were still managed by directors who had entered the institutions during imperial rule. A longing for the past and specific imaginings of the future emerged in both nations after the war. Nostalgic discourses shaped the development of the museums in the interwar period. This article focuses on the activities of museum directors from both countries. It provides a comparative analysis of nostalgizing museum practices in each country marked by examples of longing for a real or imagined past and expectations for the future found in correspondence, publications, and the process of musealization.

DOI: 10.14712/23363231.2023.14