Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

National Museum of World Cultures

The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal and Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden merged in April 2014 to create the National Museum of World Cultures. Together the three museums are custodians of over 370,000 objects and almost 1,000,000 photographs drawn from across the world. Bringing together the three museums into a single institutional framework also brought together three different but overlapping institutional and collections histories (colonial, scientific, missionary). Today the three museums host permanent displays and regularly changing temporary exhibitions all exploring the diversity and complexity of humanity.

Peter Pels

MSc Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology: Policy-oriented research internship 

Please note: the four internships at the National Museum of World Cultures are still subject to final confirmation

(1) Arabic Calligraphy

The National Museum of World Cultures invites students fluent in Arabic and with a special interest in Islamic art and visual culture to work on documenting and interpreting the iconography of objects recently acquired from professor emeritus Frederick de Jong, to be supervised by dr. Pooyan Tamimi Arab. Interns should be able to read Arabic (calligraphic) inscriptions without trouble (see sample image above). Fluency in Dutch is preferred but not required. Besides getting acquainted with the museum collection, interns learn to work with TMS or The Museum System, a database system used by museums worldwide.

(2) Mining (in) the Museum

The Research Center for Material Culture is seeking an anthropology graduate student with a specific interest in materiality, colonial economies, and museum history. The intern will conduct research for and assist with activities related to the project Global Earth Matters, which is a collaboration between the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University and the Research Center for Material Culture.

Global Earth Matters seeks to re-center scholarly interest in the materiality of objects, opening onto broader questions of labour and making, skills and craftsmanship, and on issues surrounding the (exploitative) economies from which these objects emerge. We want to push the conversation about museums objects beyond questions of aesthetic quality or (cultural) use, to critically explore the relationship between the materials from which these objects are made and the social world within which they are created or function.

Part of the project is a series of four seminars that brings artists, academics and curators with an expertise in materiality into interdisciplinary conversations. This project coincides with an interest in tracing the history of collecting and display in one of the former departments of the Tropenmuseum, the Trade/Economic Museum. Prior to being renamed the Tropenmuseum in 1950, the Tropenmuseum was the Colonial Museum, which began in Harlem in 1864. An important aspect of the museums history was the acquisition and study of materials of economic value in the colonies, including minerals. There remains very little study of these materials.


  • Collections research: the intern will identify and conduct research on objects, photography and documents in the museum collection that are related to colonial economies, mining histories, and the early politics and poetics of the Colonial Museum’s display and acquisition. The intern will focus on the mineral samples collection; photography from mining industries and villages ( such as Moengo, Suriname; Indonesia);

  • Collections Documentation: the intern will gather information to improve object records, including: updating titles, adding contextual information and authorities, and updating Geography, Culture attribution, and Creation Date whenever possible.

  • Curatorial Research: the intern will contribute to research on an upcoming exhibition on gold.

(3) Resonating Pasts

Both the Museum Volkenkunde and the Tropenmuseum hold acoustic collections, which were produced by anthropologists, linguists and musicologists, sometimes produced for the museum, in other cases given to the museum by collectors. Whereas some of the earlier acoustic collections are well known and have been digitized, this is not the case with the collection s of reel-to-reel tapes (Geluidbanden) recorded since the 1950s. The museum in Leiden holds a collection of approximately 600 reel-to-reel tapes from all over the world, which we would like to assess and possibly target for close listening.

The research project for which the intern(s) will be attached, Resonating Pasts, responds to the fact that museums but also practices of linguistic recording and listening have given scarce attention to the acoustic, semantic and narrative contents of sound archives. The striking marginalisation of the spoken and sung words of so-called native informants, which was a structural part of the projects of knowledge production, has been passed on with the conserved files, for instance as untranslated narratives and comments, and as often misidentified genres of speech and song. On the other hand most scholarly work on the historical practices (ethnographic / linguistic / musiscological) of recording has in turn failed to critically engage with questions of the colonial archive, and, in attending merely to the practices of the Western researchers, repeated the neglect of the often untranslated spoken and sung texts of those who were recorded.


  • Intern(s) will conduct research on specified items of the acoustic collection of the Museum Volkenkunde which need to be re-organised and re-connected to existing visual and documentary collections and collectors. This means, for instance that all information that accompanies the tapes needs to be catalogued (tags, labeling, but also notes that in some cases come with the reels, and information available on formats). A new register has to be produced.

  • Where possible, the intern will collate information on recordists, place of recording, actual volume of acoustic collection and connection to documentation and objects in the museum and elsewhere would have to be assembled. This work will form the basis from which we can assess what shall be digitized, and what results we expect from the work on the content of the recordings that would be possible after the digitization is accomplished.

(4) ‘De Andere Wereld’ (in Dutch)

In de tentoonstelling ‘De Andere Wereld’ (ingepland voor 2019) maakt de bezoeker tijdens een spirituele wereldreis kennis met paranormale vormen van healing, met sjamanen, witches, engelen en andere spirituele helpers. Het is een avontuurlijke reis met sferische en hedendaagse religieuze elementen. In Nederland worden tal van healings uitgevoerd met andere culturele bronnen dan de westerse: sjamanisme, Winti, Ayahuasca, etc. Doel is niet alleen iemand genezen, maar ook een relatie tot de ‘andere wereld’ te zoeken/herstellen.

Er is ruimte voor een stageonderzoek dat zich richt op het verkennen van de Nederlandse situatie waarbij er een bepaalde groep uitgelicht wordt. De stageopdracht betreft samen met de twee inhoudelijke conservatoren verdiepen in bronnen (voornamelijk in Nederland) en het zoeken van collectie om die bronnen in beeld te brengen. De stagiair(e) werkt dus zowel met bronnen als met collectie. Daarnaast zal er met andere specialisten gesproken moeten worden - en met een aantal kunstenaars, want hedendaagse kunst is aan dit onderwerp gerelateerd (denk aan kunstenaars als Olazabal, Bedia, maar ook Mathilde ter Heijne in Berlijn). Een dynamische stageopdracht dus waarbij gerekend wordt op actieve participatie en een grote mate van zelfstandigheid van de stagiair(e).

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