Since their foundation in the 19th century, the task of ethnographic museums has changed fundamentally. Today, the starting point is the principle of equality in which a wide range of interdependences, differing perspectives, and reflection modes are addressed.
Annual reports from the early years of the Museum der Kulturen Basel (MKB) euphorically state that a new region has now been included on the museum’s world map, or that an existing typology has been extended by the acquisition of a certain object. At first, the emphasis was on sheer quantity, but, later, the focus shifted more to qualitative aspects such authenticity, precise provenance, contexts, and scientific enquiry.
Since every object was potentially evidence of the evolution of mankind, just about everything was collected in those early days. Today, MKB is committed to a different collection policy: an object is acquired if it bears testimony to cultural encounters and is able to make a significant contribution to an exhibition.