Manufacturing Race

Contemporary Memories of a Building's Colonial Past


About the project

This website is an exhibition on the history and memories of a building’s colonial past. It was born from the knowledge that every site in Germany has a colonial past and the conviction that this knowledge needs to be made public. Not only did we, a group of students, want to know about the colonial past of Ihnestraße 22, currently a building of the Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin, but we want everyone to know. We hope that this research will bring others, at the Free University and beyond, to engage with the colonial reality that exists in all spaces. The exhibition is made up of two parts: Manufacturing Race on the colonial history of the building and the research that took place there, and Contemporary Memories on how this history is remembered today. 

While we hope the knowledge we have exhibited will reach beyond the university, we specifically chose to first host the exhibition in October 2013 at the very site where this knowledge was produced. Thereafter the exhibition was shown at the Werkstatt der Kulturen and during the Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften in Berlin. And now it has been transformed into this virtual exhibition. Through this we want to highlight that the international, the colonial, and the local are interwoven. We also want to remind that they are relevant to us all here, today. In doing so, we want to bring the question of ethics and research to the fore.

“We” appears in almost every sentence here. It does so on purpose. This is the place where we want to make visible who we are – where we want to position ourselves. We are five students studying International Relations and Political Science. We are white ⊗ , as are the vast majority of all people at the Free University of Berlin. We come from Canada, Brazil, the United States, and Germany. These factors all bring with them several challenges, foremost the problem of representation. Within our exhibition, the researchers are given the prominent role and voice. We want to explain the choice behind this positioning.

In focusing on the researchers, we want to highlight the responsibilities scientists had and still have today in relation to the production of knowledge. Scientific knowledge can be used to perpetuate and reify structures of oppression, such as colonialism or racism. As white students in a Western research institution, we find it necessary to reflect on these processes through a historic review of the research that was conducted in the building of today's Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science. Through our focus we acknowledge, however, that we have not created sufficient space for the many voices of people affected by this research, for example in the former German colonies, during the National Socialist regime and beyond. Moreover, we believe we must not reproduce the racist language expressed by the researchers. Therefore, numerous words are blocked out and replaced through contemporary definitions.

Finally, this exhibition could not have been made possible without many helping hands and minds. First and foremost, we would like to thank Prof. Bilgin Ayata, the person who inspired us to grapple with this topic. The idea of this project was born within her seminar “Postcolonial Theories in International Relations” in 2013, which encouraged us to think beyond traditional concepts of International Relations. Her support and guidance throughout the entire process allowed the project to develop into what it is today.

Also, we would like to sincerely thank the personnel of the Max Planck Society Archive for all their help, as well as Dr. Christl Wickert, Prof. Hans-Walter Schmuhl, Prof. Carola Sachse, Ida Hoffman, Israel Kaunatjike and all professors and students for their interviews. We would like to thank Stefan Wiechmann und Susan Bergner for helping with the translation. Last but not least, the exhibition was made possible through the financial support of IB an der Spree and the Institute and Department Councils of the Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science.

Julia Kirchner, Julia Scheurer, Lili Mundle, Owen Brown & Thiago Pinto Barbosa

⊗ We will write “white” in lower case and in italics to indicate that it is a socially constructed category and not a skin color. It is also meant to demarcate it from the category “Black”, which is a self-designation with empowering and resistant character.

Team & Contact

Lili Mundle
Thiago Pinto Barbosa
Julia Scheurer
Owen Brown
Julia Kirchner
Prof. Bilgin Ayata
Inspiration & Support

News & Press

"The project 'Manufacturing Race' - an example project for the open call of CampusWELTbewerb, a contest for global sustainability on Baden-Wuerttemberg's campuses:

'Students of the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science at the Free University of Berlin created an exhibition about the history of the institute's building. The history of the institute is told through the lens of racism and colonialism, and reflects contemporary memory politics.'"

"Students of the Free University of Berlin bring attention to the role of the former institute of the Max Planck Society during colonialism. The MPG itself chooses to remain silent."

"'The connection between colonialism and research is being ignored all together', Scheurer says. Together with four other students of the seminar 'Postcolonialism in International Relations', she wants to change this fact through the exhibition 'Manufacturing Race - Contemporary Memories of a Building's Colonial Past'."

"Owen Brown, co-organizer and student in the Master's program International Relations says: 'The Fact that many human remains have not yet been repatriated shows that the past can never be seen to be fully concluded, but always influences the present.'"

With support from the Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science and the Department of Political and Social Sciences