“Three Long Rows of Empty Shelves” to Fill

Curt Nimuendajú as Collector and Researcher for Ethnological Museums in Germany, 1928-1930

  • Peter Schröder Universidade Federal de Pernambuco


In 1928-29 and 1930, the German-Brazilian anthropologist Curt Nimuendajú was contracted twice by German ethnological institutions (above all, museums) for organizing ethnographic collections and carrying out anthropological research among indigenous peoples; principally Jê-speaking peoples in various regions of today’s Maranhão and Tocantins states in Brazil. This is not only a lesser-known part of Nimuendajú’s biography, but also an example of a kind of academic cooperation difficult to imagine nowadays. The collections, partly destroyed during World War II, are still stored in the ethnological museums of Hamburg, Leipzig, and Dresden, along with a great number of mostly unpublished letters and other documents linked to them. The history of these expeditions offers an opportunity for reflections about the implicit theories involved in contemporary collecting, fieldwork methods, and the style of anthropology practiced. The research reveals influences from German ethnology on the academic environment in Brazil, which later became increasingly independent from this input.


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Special Issue - German-Speaking Anthropologists in Latin-America, 1884-1945