Thinking about Restitution: An interactive documentary by MIASA fellow Martin Doll


From September to December 2021 the MIASA Interdisciplinary Fellow Group on "The 4 Rs in Africa: Reality or Transcultural Aphasia?" (IFG 5) researched issues of restitition of colonially acquired objects. The research of the group focussed the colonial encounter between Germany and the former Western Togoland - a region that lost significant cultural objects during German colonial encounters that can now be found in the German museums. A field trip to Kpando in the Volta Region in September set the grounds for a case study on a particular restitution claim to Germany.

One of the impressive outcomes of IFG 5 is the interactive documentary "Epistemologies of Restitution" by Professor Martin Doll from the Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf, Senior Fellow of IFG 5. As Doll says, the documentary not meant to give definite answers: "You will not find a linear realist historical narrative. Instead, you will be faced with opinions and statements from very different perspectives" - the very reason why he decided to deal with the investigation of the epistemologies of restitution not in a textual but in an audivisual way.

The discourses around restitution are characterized by many different, sometimes even conflicting interests and demands, coming from various areas such as jurisdiction, politics, ethics, economics, or museums. Their different demands make the issue of restitution a complex topic. As researchers the fellows of IFG 5 brought another interest group into perspective, which is that of scholars of the Humanities. That this is not a neutral perspective became clear to the fellows at a very early stage of their fieldwork, leading to questions such as: "How does our research feed into the practical level of restitution?" Or more specifically: "How do you proceed, if you find out that your scholarly findings might not bring forward, but make a restitution case more complex?

To watch the interactive documentary and to read more about the making of the film: