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Meet the Expert: Martin Berger

Connecting Worlds 

Meet dr. Martin Berger, assistant professor at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University and former curator at the National Museum of Ethnology (NME). A Leiden University graduate, dr. Berger has found his way through the world of museal collections to teaching and doing research in an academic setting. Using his many years of experience as a curator, dr. Berger aims to stimulate the connection between the academic and museal worlds in Leiden.

For dr. Berger, it all started when he was just a 10-year-old kid visiting the Chichén Itzá archaeological site in Yucatan, Mexico. He was so amazed by the experience; it was from that moment on that he knew he wanted to study archeology and make it his career. He followed through and earned both his BA and PhD at Leiden University while starting his career as curator at the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures (NMWC), which the NME is a part of. Although he curated numerous exhibitions during those years, the Aztecs exhibition currently at NME can be considered a highlight. If you have not seen it yet, make sure to pay a visit soon and join one of dr. Bergers lectures he still occasionally does.

For dr. Berger, the switch from working at museums to working at the University of Leiden meant he got to spend more time researching and teaching. His classes and research broadly revolve around the same idea: understanding how the past influences the present. This can take different forms: while dr. Bergers PhD research was on the role of globalization in the development of an indigenous Mexican ballgame, he is currently looking at the international art market for pre-Columbian Mesoamerican pieces in the 20th century and the use and cultural meaning of turquoise in pre-Colonial Mesoamerica. Although very specific in their own way, dr. Berger explains this kind of research undoubtedly contributes to bigger questions. “Ultimately, it is all about how we see and understand other cultures. What is our own place in world history, and how do we view our own identity and that of others in a globalized world? Who gets to decide what we learn about other people’s cultures?”

Dr. Berger does not see himself leaving the academic world any time soon, as he wants to do more research on museal collections and how pieces got to where they are now. Moreover, he believes many could benefit from a closer relation between Leiden’s museums and university, a connection he is keen to strengthen. “With my experience, I believe I can contribute to this relationship. The Museums, Collections and Society programme is certainly already a great initiative, but there is much more that can be done.”


Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Lisa van der Geest (November 2021)

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