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Welcome to the Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge (HC-CK)

The project on the Hoffmann Collection was initiated in 2010 by Dr. Annekie Joubert from the Seminar for African Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in Germany. A combined team under leadership of Dr. Joubert, and researchers from the University of Pretoria (Prof. Lizé Kriel and Ms. Klaudia Ringelmann); the University of South Africa (Prof. Inge Kosch and Prof. Gerrie Grobler); as well as Mr. Sam Moifatswane (formerly from the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History, Pretoria) worked on the Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge (HC-CK) since 2010. The knowledge and insight resulting from this collaboration have become central to our understanding of the unrivalled collection of cultural knowledge in the form of narrations and images from within the orbit of Hoffmann’s mission field. This material is still scattered in various institutions in Germany and South Africa today. Our scientific goal is to provide vital tools for entry into the Hoffmann Collection. This we try to achieve through the publication of a book: Ethnography from the mission field: The Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge; supplemented by a film: A Journey into the life of a mission ethnographer; and this comprehensive database: The Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge (HC-CK). Of vital importance to us is also to create the ability to connect our published re-worked material digitally to the variety of original material in the different archives. We seek to broach new territory in some significant way by establishing an immediate and effortless way of referencing between our published book and the original material. This view influenced our decision to opt for open access to prospective users. 

The digital database (HC-CK) is an amalgamation of digital scans, images and video footage relating to missionary Carl Hoffmann’s work and life on various mission stations. The information has been gathered from several institutions, personal collections and field research excursions. These include: the Berliner Missions Archiv, Berliner Missions Bibliothek, Zweigbibliothek Afrikawissenschaften (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), the Unisa Library Archive in Pretoria, the State Archives in Pretoria, the personal collection of Martin and Albert Neitz (grandchildren of Carl Hoffmann) as well as field research data collected by Dr. Annekie Joubert in Poland, Germany and South Africa.

The top priority of this project is to recognize the Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge as a national treasure and to safeguard it not only for scientific use, but also for the people of South Africa. With the database, the project further envisages the dissemination of this collection of threatened resources through new technology such as filming and digitisation, and to make it more accessible through the bilateral exchange of the material in digital format between Germany and South Africa. As researchers, we hope that the outcomes of this research project (book publication, documentary film, database) will open new perspectives on Northern Sotho linguistics, oral literature, cultural heritage, mission history and visual arts embedded in historiography.

The project was initially funded by the German Research Foundation, followed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and finally by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This website has been authored by Annekie Joubert and Lize Kriel and edited by Katarzyna Biernacka.

Joubert, et. al. 2015. The Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge. DOI: 10.17172/MR/22.

Joubert A., Biernacka K. 2015. Cultural Heritage and New Technologies: The Role of Technology in Preserving, Restoring and Disseminating Cultural Knowledge.


Book publication 

Joubert, et. al. 2015. Ethnography from the Mission Field: The Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Knowledge. Leiden: Brill. ISBN13: 9789004297630.

The book offers a translated and annotated edition of the 24 scientific articles by missionary Carl Hoffmann and his local interlocutors published between the years 1913 and 1958. The edition is introduced by a historic contextualisation using a cultural historical approach to analyse the context in which Hoffmann’s ethnographic texts were produced. Making use of historical material and Hoffmann’s own words from personal diaries and letters, the authors draw the attention to the discursive context in which the texts annotated in the book had been compiled. In a concluding chapter the book traces the captivating developments of the orthography of Northern Sotho through Hoffmann’s texts over almost half a century.

For the e-book publication use DOI: 10.1163/9789004297722.


Documentary film

Joubert, Annekie 2015.  A Journey into the Life of a Mission-Ethnographer. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1375528.

Where the book mainly makes primary source material available in the original African language and contextualises it historically and linguistically, the film attempts to give the reader/viewer a better understanding of the man behind these textual sources: missionary Carl Hoffmann. The film traces a timeline through his life. He is placed in the centre of the narrative by reviewing different facets of his life and experiences in order to link them with the texts and the visuals he co-produced. The dialectics between a Lutheran missionary and an ‘incidental’ ethnographer constitute the central motif in the quest to understand the discursive context in which the texts annotated in the book had been compiled and particularly the man that was instrumental in securing the collection of cultural knowledge. E.J. Brill has made the film available via its online channels. To view the film one has to follow the link given on Brill’s webpage.


The HC-NoSo-CH-Project is a truly international effort between tertiary research institutions of the Republic of South Africa and of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland and goes beyond the institutional boundaries of the universities by involving the archives in Berlin (Evangelisches Landeskirchliches Archiv in Berlin) and the library archive of the University of South Africa. The director of ELAB Dr. Wolfgang Krogel regards this project as a pilot project for the international exchange of archive material in digital format. The project was selected in August 2012 to form part of the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013 (YoS).

Contributors to the Hoffmann project


Dr. Annekie Joubert (Project leader and scientific researcher)

Prof. Lizé Kriel (scientific researcher)

Prof. Inge Kosch (scientific researcher)

Prof. Gerrie Grobler (scientific researcher)

Ms. Klaudia Ringelmann (scientific translator)

Mr. Sam Moifatswane (field work researcher and assistant)  


Scientific assistants and student assistants:

Ms. Mary Harenberg (scientific assistant 2010-2012)

Ms. Katarzyna Biernacka (scientific assistant 2012-2014)

Ms. Anke Mölleken (student assistant 2010-2013)

Ms. Luise Jobst (student assistant 2013-2014)

Ms. Annika Vosseler (student assistant 2013-2014)


Descendants of Hoffmann:

Carl Adolf Gustav Hoffmann's diaries had been transcribed from the old German script by his daughter

Dorothea Elizabeth Hildegard (9.4.1911 - 30.1.2004)

and her husband

Heinrich Gustav Christian Neitz (11.12.1901 - 14.4.1987).

This painstaking labour of love is gratefully acknowledged for its immense contribution to making this resource accessible to researchers.


Visual production:

Dr. Annekie Joubert (Film Producer)

Mr. Jörg Schulze (Director of photography)

Ms. Katarzyna Biernacka (Media repository)


Cooperating institutions:

Computer- and Media Service, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin  

Evangelisches Landeskirchliches Archiv in Berlin (Director: Dr. Wolfgang Krogel)

Library Archive of the University of South Africa (Executive Director Library Services: Dr. Buhle Mbambo-Thata; Library Archive of the University of South Africa: Ms. Marie Coetzee)

Mikro-Univers GmbH, Berlin (Scanning, OCR and micro-filming)