Dinosaurs in Berlin! The Brachiosaurus brancai – a Political, Scientific, and Popular Icon


Since more than eight decades one of the worldwide most prominent scientific objects towers above Berlin: the Brachiosaurus brancai. This fossilized dinosaur was excavated by a team of paleontologists of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin in the former German colony Deutsch-Ostafrika, todays Tanzania, from 1909 onwards. It was mounted and presented to the German public for the first time in 1937, in wartime dismantled and secured in the cellar of the Museum. In the divided post-war Germany the dinosaur became an emblem for East-German science. For supporting the economic relations between Japan and the GDR it was send to Japan in the 1980s. After a second German expedition to Tanzania in 2000 the dinosaur and the dinosaur hall were renovated and reconstructed from 2005 onwards.
The project focuses on the Brachiosaurus brancai as pars pro toto for the excavated Tanzanian objects at the Museum für Naturkunde. The object’s transnational history spawns hundred years of paleontology, several political changes and different styles of presentations. The object is also a paradigmatic boundary object that connects both science and the public, national and international interests, political and popular discourses. Representing an animal and its environment that was alive more than 150 million years ago the object bounds together science and imagination. By concentrating on the object’s complex history the project contributes to a better understanding of processes of scientific imagination, of authentication and identification, as well as nationalization and sacralisation. It aims at an object related German political and cultural history from 1900 to 2000, at a science history of paleontology and new perspectives on scientific objects as national symbols. It also contributes to an accentuated reflection of museums as political actors, their history in different political systems and their present political responsibility. The research association established for this project brings together international experts in global and African studies, in cultural studies and science history, and in the history of German museums and cultural objects. By bringing its diverse methods and analytical tools – from discourse analysis, art historical hermeneutics, deep description and cultural historical analysis of processes of scientific Gestaltung – the project aims at analyzing and translating the dinosaur’s “language” in scientific and popular discourses.

Principal Investigators
Schäffner, Wolfgang Prof. Dr. phil. (Details) (Knowledge and Cultural History)
Bredekamp, Horst Prof. Dr. (Details) (Senior Professor and Professors retired)
Eckert, Andreas Prof. Dr. phil. (Details) (African History)
Vogel, Johannes Prof. Dr. (Details) (other Employees)

Duration of Project
Start date: 01/2016
End date: 10/2017

Last updated on 2020-20-03 at 23:13