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Irene Hilden

Doctoral Fellow


Institut für Europäische Ethnologie room 104
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Möhrenstraße 40/41
10117 Berlin

Dissertation Project

Absent Presences in the Colonial Archive: Dealing with the Berlin Sound Archive’s Acoustic Heritage

In recent years, the significance of the sound archive (Lautarchiv) at the Humboldt University of Berlin has been explored in different ways and from different perspectives. However, no research project has yet been attempted to examine the diverse archival collections, each dating from a different period, with one single focus. In my doctoral research project, I do not wish to concentrate only on the dates and facts of the archive, as one would when writing a conventional account of an institution’s history. Instead, I aim to establish a connection to current perspectives in postcolonial and cultural studies, as well as to the history of science. I intend to link together different collections from different times and situations, and to correlate them with material from other archives. My primary research questions will focus on the presences and absences in and of the archive in both a physical and a more theoretical, epistemological sense. I plan to consider minor and marginalised histories and, in particular, stories which indicate the presence of People of Colour in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Is it possible to trace these moments and narratives in the European archives against a valorisation of the diversity of subaltern subjects? I understand the Lautarchiv to be not just a Western, but also a colonial, archive as well as a colonial project involving the production, configuration, and preservation of specific structures of power and knowledge which have, in part, survived to the present day.


I studied cultural history and theory, European ethnology, and German Studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Istanbul University. After graduating with a thesis titled “The (Im)Possibility of Subaltern Articulation. Sound Recordings from German Prisoner-of-War Camps during World War I” in 2015, I started working at the Berlin Sound Archive (Lautarchiv). Besides assisting international academic and non-academic visitors, artists, and students, I continued my own research on imperial knowledge production and its acoustic traces. In October 2016, I joined the Institute for European Ethnology at Humboldt University and became a fellow of the Research Training Group Minor Cosmopolitanisms at the University of Potsdam. 

Research Interests

  • Postcolonial Studies
  • Archival Studies
  • History of Science
  • Sound and Media Studies
  • Historical Anthropology
  • Critical Museum and Heritage Studies