Developing collections at the Humboldt-Universität
The Helmholtz Centre for Cultural Techniques links teaching, research, and exhibitions on the university’s collections to their indexing and to their further development as museum assets. An overarching interest frames this undertaking: an interest in collecting as a cultural technique, in the development of material cultures in the sciences, the associated cultures of memory and identity politics, and the relationship between material and digital architectures of knowledge.
The Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin has more than 40 collections, and their management is generally decentralised and led by the respective institutes. The Helmholtz Centre is responsible for coordinating and supporting their activities.
An overview of the diverse collections held by the Humboldt-Universität is provided on the web portal of the active collections, managed by the Helmholtz Centre. This also provides the framework for the central, cross-collection indexing project Cabinets of Knowledge, which was launched at the Helmholtz Centre in 1999 and has been developed since then. It indexes the Humboldt-Universität’s historical and current collections.
The Helmholtz Centre stages changing exhibitions linked to the collections in the Animal Anatomy Theatre, the central exhibition venue at the Humboldt-Universität. A »collection display window« is currently being developed in the theatre’s library. This exhibition will be both permanent and dynamically changing, presenting a cross section of objects from the collections and allowing visitors to make connections between collection objects that would otherwise be separated physically and by their respective disciplines. Planning is also under way on a Laboratory of Objects in the Gerlach Building, the extension of the Animal Anatomy Theatre. In collaboration with the Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité, it will temporarily bring together objects from across the collections in order to use them for educational and research purposes. The Laboratory of Objects will also create an infrastructure for restoration and digitalisation projects.
The collection holdings of the Humboldt-Universität are exceptionally heterogeneous: they come from different disciplines, from archaeology to zoology, were initiated for teaching or research purposes, and include different kinds of objects, from models to preserved specimens, plants and documentary material, to archaeological finds and photographs. As traces of the different phases in the university’s development, they bear witness to its achievements, but also to the sidelines and gulfs in scientific activity and research.