Since 2020, the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Museum of Science and Technology) has been exploring its collection and archival holdings from colonial acquisition contexts.The research work is based on a project series on colonial provenance research at Austrian federal museums funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Arts and Culture, the Civil Service and Sport (BMKOES). The project partners are the Museum of Applied Arts Vienna (MAK), the Natural History Museum Vienna (NHM) and the Weltmuseum Wien. The participating museums pursue different research questions.
Between 2022 and 2024, the “Colonial Infrastructures” research project at the Technisches Museum Wien is exploring colonial infrastructure and transport projects where Austrian involvement is evident in planning/construction or through direct/indirect commercial interests. Four major colonial projects documented in the museum’s archives for Austrian history of technology and railway history provide the starting point for the research: the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Otavi Railway Line in Namibia, the North Western Railway in India and the Dom Pedro II Railway in Brazil.
The project goals include:
- further revealing “Austrian colonialism without colonies”, giving particular regard to the role of museums of technology as structural amplifiers of colonial racial power structures and as actors in colonial networks
- exploring colonial contexts of injustice and exploitative relationships (enslavement, forced labour and the like) in planning, construction and/or operation, as well as resistance strategies, their impacts and reception
- enhancing the debate and networking with current empowerment movements on long-term interactions between colonialism, exploitation of the landscape and irreversible ecological impacts on site (decolonial ecology)
- critically examining visual and presentation concepts in dealing with discriminating objects and archives across institutions
- ensuring preservation and restoration of the archival holdings in question
Other central aspects of the project include developing an anti-racist vocabulary for use in the museum’s database, international exchange as part of the Decolonial Summer School at the Technisches Museum Wien and the integration of a Scholar in Residence with strong contemporary relevance.
As part of the 2020/21 project entitled “Rubber – coffee – cocoa. History of technology as colonial economic history”, the Technisches Museum Wien devoted itself to exploring raw materials from colonial contexts in the museum’s collection. Raw materials are important testaments to the European history of economics, trade and knowledge, allow conclusions about potentially exploitative relationships and exemplify objects from colonial contexts in European museums of technology.
In 2022, the project results from the Technisches Museum Wien were published along with the simultaneously prepared research reports of other Austrian museums in the collective volume „Vom Winterpalast nach Tierra del Fuego. Koloniale Erwerbungen für Österreich?“, edited by Pia Schölnberger (BMKOES).