Humanity through the museum collections


  • Francesca Bigoni Museo di Antropologia e Etnologia, Sistema Museale di Ateneo, Università di Firenze



museology, anthropology, ethnology, decolonization, indigenous populations


The National Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology was founded 150 years ago by Paolo Mantegazza, also originator of anthropological sciences in Italy. Mantegazza’s vision contemplated anthropology as a discipline that had to trace the “natural history of man” as a holistic field of integrated studies. He wanted to methodically investigate physical, cultural and psycho-behavioral aspects of humans. His project, found a concrete expression in his museum, but the original mission was forgotten after Mantegazza’s death. The museum was moved to a new location and re-founded in the 1920s and 30s as a celebration of the colonial might of the Empire and a fountainhead of racist, fascist propaganda.

After the Second World War, in part due to the infamy associated with Nazi-fascism, Anthropology fissioned into two rigidly separated academic fields: Physical Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology. Collaborative anthropology proposes a necessary strategy that reintegrates anthropology and redefines the contents of the museum and its spaces as a place of dialogue and encounter. The Museum is a central and indispensable institution of Western culture, which can only survive within a dynamic process. In the international path of museum rethinking, the Florentine institution must become a bridge that promotes dialogue and understanding between peoples. The defense of natives, with their much more sustainable and spiritually rich cultures, is directly linked to safeguarding the environmental balance on the planet. This is a topic of dramatic actuality: today the Brazilian peoples of the Amazon are under siege, in a political climate that is promoting the deforestation of this green lung of the earth and their defense is essential for the survival of Homo sapiens.





Human nature, soul and body. Convergence of perspectives