NMVW Kleur
Press release:

NMVW and VU start research project on colonial collections.

Funding by the Dutch Research Council awarded to a collaborative research project on the colonial collections in Dutch museums.

The National Museum of World Cultures (NMVW) and the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (VU) will start the research project Pressing Matter: Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums. The research team will comprise researchers from five academic institutions, five Dutch museums, in collaboration with national, and international partners from across the world. In this four-year research project, the team will address issues surrounding museum collections collected in the colonial period. The overall project budget is 4.5 million euros, of which 3.5 million will be funded by the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA). In total, at least 12 research positions will become available for this project.

The next step in dealing with colonial collections

Pressing Matter was initiated as part of the long-standing collaboration between the NMVW and the VU and is led by Prof. Dr. Wayne Modest, director of the Research Center for Material Culture of the NMVW, and professor by special appointment at the VU on behalf of the NMVW. “Conducting provenance research is extremely important in the debates around collections from the colonial period, and goes beyond looted art alone,” said Modest. “This was recently confirmed by the Dutch Council for Culture in its advisory report. Following our earlier initiatives on how to deal with collections collected in the colonial period, we are now taking the very important next step in this process, together with our partners. ”

Cultural and societal value

The Pressing Matter project is in line with Council of Council’s advisory report focussing as it does on research into colonial collections and on the development of research methodologies to do so. Also in line with the report, the researchers in Pressing Matter will develop tools in dialogue with the countries of origin, on how to deal with objects in colonial collections that are not spoils of war, but that do have important socio- cultural value. Modest: “We will not only consider looted objects, but also focus on other collection histories; importantly this will include investigating possible solutions for human remains in the collections.”

The collaboration between universities, museums and other partners is of great value in bringing together different perspectives: academic, museological, scientific and societal. Prof. Susan Legêne: “We bring our international knowledge and networks together in search of answers to important social issues surrounding the collections. This goes beyond questions such as where do objects come from and to whom they belong? Importantly: for whom do they carry meaning today and how or where does these meaning  are most relevant are important questions?”

Thematic selection

The initiators cannot yet say how many objects will be investigated precisely. The collections will be examined thematically, according to their collection history. This includes items collected during military actions, during missionary work, through trade relations or through scientific expeditions.


The collections on which the research will focus are located at the NMVW (Tropenmuseum, Museum Volkenkunde and Afrika Museum), the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, the Rijksmuseum, Museum Bronbeek, Museum Vrolik (AUMC), University Museum Utrecht and the Groningen University Museum. In addition to employees of these museums, the project will include researchers from various scientific disciplines affiliated with the VU, Utrecht University, NIOD, University of Groningen, Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam. The project will also include external international researchers and museum professionals.

About the Dutch Research Agenda

Pressing Matter is included in the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA). The NWA addresses questions that require coordination and cooperation in order to achieve scientific and societal breakthroughs. The aim of the NWA is to make a positive and structural contribution to the global knowledge society of tomorrow..


note to editors, not for publication

For more information and interview requests for Wayne Modest, please contact the NMVW press officer Coromandel Brombacher: pers@wereldculturen.nl or tel 06-53152835.

For more information and interview requests for Susan Legêne, please contact the VU press office, Doede van der Hoeven, (020) 59 82726, d.c.vander.hoeven@vu.nl