German colonial heritage in Swiss ethnographic museums. Traces, trajectories and transformations

The core interest of the Ph.D. is the investigation of colonial provenances of ethnographic collections in Switzerland. On the basis of a cross-institutional approach, with quantitative and qualitative collection surveys, the material heritage from colonial acquisition contexts of different ethnographic museums in Switzerland is assessed and related to one another. The two central areas of investigation are, on the one hand, the context and the events of collecting itself and, on the other hand, the institutionalization processes of resulting ethnographic collections. The surveys’ samples, which simultaneously delimits the specific context of concern, consist of collections originating from African and Pacific regions that were part of the German Colonial Empire between 1883 and the end of the First World War.

On the one hand, archival collection data in the concerned museums is analyzed as primary sources for the investigation of the moments of exchange in a colonial context. On the other hand, the analyses of the data serve to identify institutional histories of collecting, documentation, and outreach strategies, while object-focused provenance histories of certain artifacts are occasionally pursued as well. Eventually, this research is an investigation of the colonial entanglements of Swiss ethnographic museums. This goes hand in hand with an understanding of their potential as colonial archives, embeds this research in the debate on colonialism without colonies and provides a post-colonial approach to Swiss historiography. 

Supervisor: Julia Tischler
Co-Supervisor: Ciraj Rassool (University of the Western Cape) 


Samuel Bachmann graduated with a BA degree in philosophy and ethnology and with an interdisciplinary MA degree in European studies at the Institute for European Global Studies, both at the University of Basel. During his studies, he focused on global history, heritage, and museum studies, which led to a master’s thesis in political science and private law about “Der Schutz des kulturellen Erbes Europas. Internationale Kulturerbepolitik und die Rolle der Europäischen Union». Since 2006, he held various positions in different historical and ethnographic museums in Switzerland. Among others, he was scientific assistant in the African collections department and director’s assistant at Museum der Kulturen Basel. Between 2015 and 2017, he worked as exhibition curator at the Historical Museum of Basel, where he co-curated the two temporary exhibitions «Wirk.Stoffe” and “Aufgetaucht”. Since 2017, Samuel Bachmann is the curator for the ethnographic collections from Africa at Bernisches Historisches Museum.

Portrait von Samuel Bachmann

Samuel Bachman 
PHD Candidate Center for African Studies 
Rheinsprung 21
4051 Basel

Bernisches Historisches Museum
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter Ethnografie   
Sammlung Afrika
Helvetiaplatz 5, Postfach 149
CH-3000 Bern 6   
Telefon +41 31 350 77 46
Fax +41 31 350 77 99