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Things that time forgot. Native American objects in Danish Museums: Problems and possibilities

We present a hitherto unresearched part of a shared Danish and American cultural heritage: Native American objects in Danish regional museum collections. Thus far, we have identified more than 200 Native American artefacts in 27 local museums,
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  Nordisk Museologi 2019 • 2, s. 57–76 should deal with the plethora o Native American objects lingering oen unregistered and orgotten in the collections o local Danish museums. Te curation crisis and the possible ramifications make this a timely issue, as museums are currently pressured into drastically reducing their collections. However, these objects also pose an important opportunity to explore a little-known part o Te ocus o this article is a hitherto unresearched part o a shared Danish and American cultural heritage: Native American objects in Danish museum collections. Te National Museum o Denmark has a large collection o systematically amassed Native American objects in the ethnographic section eatured in several recent exhibitions (Gabriel 2016), but this article rather asks how we Abstract:   We present a hitherto unresearched part o a shared Danish and  American cultural heritage: Native American objects in Danish regional museum collections. Tus ar, we have identified more than 200 Native American arteacts in 27 local museums, largely a result o Danes abroad privately collecting in the late 1800s and 1950s–70s. Te majority o these arteacts, many o which are  prehistoric in age, have never been displayed and have lingered in storage since they were accessioned, understudied and ofen unrecognised or what they are. Recent deaccessioning pressures rom the Danish Agency or Culture and Palaces  potentially place these objects at risk o destruction, making the discussions presented here a timely issue. Tese Native American objects, like the unknown numbers o other non-Danish arteacts held by regional museums, hold tremendous potential to elucidate overlooked parts o Danish museum history, trans-Atlantic networks and interconnectedness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as rich material cultures srcinating ar rom Denmark. We argue that this perspective is highly relevant and should be utilised in Danish museums, as it begets reflections on Danish glocal identity and society in a post-colonial world. Keywords:  Danish regional museums, Native American arteacts, glocal, legacy material, deaccession, repatriation, biography. Laura Ahlqvist, Mathias Bjørnevad, Felix Riede & Magdalena Naum Native American objects in Danish Museums Problems and possibilities Tings that time forgot  58 Laura Ahlqvist, Mathias Bjørnevad, Felix Riede & Magdalena Naum as well as in recently published guidelines regarding curation by the Danish Agency or Culture and Palaces (Kulturministeriet 2003, Kulturarvsstyrelsen 2005a, Kulturarvsstyrelsen 2005b, Kulturarvsstyrelsen 2006). Some o these issues are deeply rooted in Danish museum history and the role o cultural heritage which might have contributed to their prevalence in Danish mind-set today (Olwig 2003:207–209, Høgh 2008, Gabriel 2016:276–278, Kristiansen 2018). However, recent publications might hint at a counter-reaction and rising interest in debating issues o colonial past and its lingering legacies (e.g. Lagerkvist 2008, Losdóttir & Jensen 2012, Naum & Nordin 2013, Bodenstein & Pagani 2014, Nonbo Andersen 2017, Nonbo Andersen & Jensen Smed 2017). Te present article is aligned with these critical debates. Focusing on Native American objects stored at regional museums, we argue that these objects have a potential to tell a nuanced story o Danish global engagements and colonial worldviews and as such question a narrow understanding o local and national history. Methods and materials Te research presented here was initially sparked by a ew unexpected finds o Native American arteacts in Museum Skanderborg’s collections, a museum largely ocused on documenting the local history o the area. Tereore, it was o great surprise to come across thirteen arrowheads (fig. 1) apparently rom the Archaic (c. 8000–1000 BCE) in North America (Kongsted 2015) and an additional collection o 21 arrowheads rom exas. Likewise, a copper tanged point rom the Ontario area as well as two apparent Native American Caliornian abalone pendants turned up in the oldest parts o the muse- Danish modern history, global engagements and colonial attitudes. Te national narrative o Denmark as a small, progressive and democratic country, an advocate o social justice and humanitarianism is thriving. At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, Danish national identity, a product o early twentieth century veneration o domestic rural culture and rhetoric o disengagement with the world, is based on “the hierarchical notions o superiority in relation to geographically and historically remote places” (Olwig 2003:210). We have witnessed this notion being still operational. As a ellow student remarked to Ahlqvist during a discussion about several contemporary indigenous cultures: “Tey are more primitive than us”. Tese constructed national narratives and identities coupled with the absence o a key decolonizing moment in Danish history (and until recently serious engagement with postcolonial perspectives) lead to reductive and selective public views o Danish colonial history and global entanglements. Tis view downplays the Danish role in colonial exploitation and is marked by lingering patronizing attitudes and racism permeating language and popular culture. It maniests itsel, or example, in heated debates about how several commercial products “cannot be racist” (Danbolt 2017), and in the resistance that several Danish politicians across the political spectrum seem to share in regard to demands or an apology or the Danish role in the institutionalised slavery in the Danish West Indies (Almbjerg 2017, Lægaard 2017).A nationalistic tendency o prioritizing a homogenized version o Danish history and culture restricted to the boundaries o the current nation state may even be evident in the mission and practices o many Danish museums  59 Things that time forgot 27 regional museums. 1  However, it should be emphasised that these 200 objects likely represent only a small proportion o the Native American and ethnographic objects that are actually present in museum collections. In many cases when we contacted museums about a given object, we were told that the museum had many more similar objects, sometimes even rom the same collector, that were not registered in the  Museernes Samlinger   database. Tese correspondences indicate that there is more material in the museums than the publicly available database suggests. Recognising the potential problems with generalised search terms, as well as the act that many museum collections are simply not uploaded to this database, this article should be viewed as a pilot study. It should also be stressed that many Native American objects are not recognised and registered as such, um’s collections. Initial research indicated that many other local Danish museums had possible Native American arteacts in their collections. As Danish regional museums generally ocus on local archaeology and history, Native American objects have so ar not been studied or displayed and are oen poorly recorded. Tis has made it very difficult to gain an overview o the Native American material in these collections. Tereore, as an initial step to this research we scoured through the online catalogue o museum collections (  Museernes Samlinger;  Slots- og Kulturstyrelsen 2018), using search terms such as Nordamerika,  Amerika ,  Indianer,  etc. Based on these findings, we also contacted several museums which identified additional arteacts not recorded in  Museernes Samlinger.  Our limited search identified more than 200 arteacts in Fig. 1. “Foreign Arrowheads” (No 1446X8). Te arrowheads were part o what later became the ounding collection o Museum Skanderborg. In 2015, they were identified as Northern American Archaic points by Dr. Erick Robinson, University o Wyoming, Laramie (Kongsted 2015). Photo: Media Department – Moesgaard  Museum.  60 Laura Ahlqvist, Mathias Bjørnevad, Felix Riede & Magdalena Naum archaeological objects had shied. It was now driven by an impulse to preserve relics o the supposedly disappearing peoples, along with a wish to capture representative material assemblages o American ‘cultures’ and provide comparative material or the study o European prehistory (Feest 1993, Krech III & Hail 1999). Tis went hand in hand with the development o museums as institutions. Te beginning o the nineteenth century marked extensive changes or the cabinets in the Danish royal collection. Tey were separated and transerred to the first museums in Denmark, which were established during this period (Hejlskov Larsen et al.  2008:505). More publicly accessible than their predecessor, these early museums played a major role in developing Danish identity and nationalism during the 1800s, which was urther cemented by the entry o C.J. Tomsen (1788–1865) in the recently established Royal Commission or the Preservation o Antiquities in 1816. Tomsen played a crucial role in opening up these collections to the public and in stimulating the public culture o collecting (Hejlskov Larsen et al. 2008:510). Danes were encouraged to participate in the preservation o Danish cultural heritage by handing in antiquities and reporting the location o ancient monuments. It generally seems this request was honoured as there was a steady flow o objects rom private hands to the Royal Commission and later the National Museum in the 1800s (Hejlskov Larsen et al  . 2008:508–509). Tis flow and subsequent studies o objects rom a comparative perspective led to the eventual implementation o the Tree–Age System in 1837 (Eskildsen 2012:39).O particular interest to this article is the ascination Tomsen also had with ethnographic objects. In 1839 he became the manager o the ethnographic collections and some o the objects discussed here were ound purely by coincidence. Te ortuitous and unsystematic nature o these discoveries emphasizes that this material is likely much more common than may first seem and is possibly ound in most, i not all, Danish regional museums, likely totalling hundreds or even thousands o arteacts that are largely unnoticed. Tus, in the uture it will be o great benefit to perorm a thorough examination o museum’s storerooms to gain a more comprehensive picture o the Native American material held in Danish regional museum, the issues they ace and the historical value they hold. The collecting of Native American objects in the past Te collecting o Native American arteacts has a long history in Europe going back to Christopher Columbus’ first trip across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 and was initially exclusively associated with aristocracy and scholars. Collected American objects were treated as curiosities and served a purpose o documenting the strangeness and exoticism o the newly discovered lands (Feest 1993, 1995, Yaya 2008). Denmark was no exception to this tradition. Te Museum Wormianum housed twenty–five Native American and Greenlandic objects in 1654, and the royal Danish “Kunstkammer” even had an “Indian Cabinet”, where American as well as other “exotic objects” were held (Feest 1995, Hejlskov Larsen et al.  2008:504). Among these Native American rarities were “Indian” and “Brazilian” pipes (Feest 1995:338), ball-headed clubs as well as a “stone-bladed weapon with inlaid wampum and copper” (Feest 1995:339). By the nineteenth century the rationale or collecting American ethnographic and  61 Things that time forgot By this logic, Native Americans were classified amongst peoples that did not process metal, and thus were to be regarded as on the bottom o civilisation (Eskildsen 2012:39–43, Gabriel 2016:276).Tis perception o a social evolutionary continuum in the school o ylor and Morgan (see ehrani 2010) persisted with Tomsen’s successor, J.J.A. Worsaae (1821–1885). Exhibi-tions eaturing “warrior shirts, clubs and scalps” aided in developing a public image o “the brutal savages o North America”. Tis perceived ‘primitiveness’ o Native Americans as well as a general ascination were also exemplified in a number o human zoos in Denmark during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (Te Hagenbeck Era; see Andreassen 2016:8–31). Tese human exhibitions allowed the audience to “experience” the lives o these “exotic and savage” cultures (Andreassen 2016) rather than merely seeing their objects through a display case. Some ethnographers and museum employees during this period apparently acted on a perceived need and a wish to document cultures that were thought to be destined to disappear (Gabriel 2016:276). Tough later diffusionist approaches to these collections as well as general discussions o museological representations o “the Other” in the twentieth century led to an arguably more nuanced display o non-Danish cultures (Gabriel 2016:276–277), some remnants o the public image o Native Americans disseminated in the late nineteenth century might still be witnessed in the present public perception in Denmark. Now, Danish museums have an opportunity to offer a new perspective on non-Western peoples by giving them a voice (e.g. Gabriel 2016), and by acknowledging the diversity o Native American cultures and objects in museums both on a national and local level. srcinally rom the “Kunstkammer”. During the ollowing years, he eagerly engaged in the collecting o ethnographic objects, mainly rom the Danish colonies, as he was apparently acting on a plan to extend these collections into a Danish Colonial Museum (Bahnson 1888:3, Eskildsen 2012:40–41, Gabriel 2016:276). “Te ethnographic section was just the one that Denmark, as a maritime state with colonies, ought, and could with least expense, raise to a pitch o some pre-eminence”, as Tomsen stated in the preace or his catalogue o the ethnographic collections (Tomsen 1862 in Bahnson 1888:3). Tomsen’s ethnographic collections grew exponentially during the 1800’s, aided by Danes migrating or traveling abroad, who were willing to collect and send arteacts to Denmark (Gabriel 2016:276).Ethnographic objects also served as analogues or Danish prehistoric objects. hus, in Te Royal Museum o Nordic Antiquities (later the National Museum o Denmark) in the 1830s stood “in the stone as well as the bronze section […] a cabinet with objects rom South Pacific Islands and other oreign countries or comparison with our own objects” (Petersen 1845 in   Eskildsen 2012:40). Tomsen remarked in his Kortattet udsigt   (Brie Outlook) in 1836 that “objects rom countries outside o the North [...] serve to elucidate Nordic antiquities – or example, stone objects rom South Sea Islands and rom savages in North America” (Tomsen 1836:67). Such comparisons came to play a significant role in developing the Tree–Age System to also encompass global development, as ethnographic objects in the museum were not organised by geographical region or date but rather “level o technological development” (Eskildsen 2012:41). Tus, a narrative o a global gradual progress o civilisation based on the presence or absence o metal casting technology was conceived.
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