Whom to Remember – How to Return? Brigitte Schiffer, the Voices of Siwa and the Entangled History of the Berlin School of Ethnomusicology

Published: 2024
the world of music (new series), 12(2)
ISBN: 2941-3680


For some years now, there has been an intense and controversial debate about the relationship between the culture of memory and research into the consequences of colonialism, on the one hand, and the Holocaust, on the other. Michael Rothberg's concept of multidirectional memory and Nathan Sznaider's contribution to the debate on the vanishing points of memory ("Fluchtpunkte der Erinnerung") provide only a few of several examples. Using the recordings of the German-Jewish composer and ethnomusicologist Brigitte Schiffer, made at the oasis of Siwa in the Sahara in 1932/33, as a case study, the article reflects on the implications of this debate for dealing with the so-called Berlin School of comparative musicology. Beyond that, the article asks how the complexity of competing memory discourses affects current approaches and efforts of decolonizing archives and identifies perspectives and strategies for how to handle such collections today, especially regarding the chances and challenges of so-called recirculation.