Our Research

The aim of the TRA Present Pasts is to overcome the Eurocentric focus of current historiography through an interdisciplinary approach to various geographic areas and periods. It seeks to promote exchange between researchers interested in South and Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe and to challenge the subject divisions of European research disciplines.

The research of TRA 5 focuses on two core areas – heritage and communication – and their diverse connections.

© BASA Museum

Profile Area Heritage

Those involved in this research area seek to challenge the Eurocentric focus of current discourses and practices involved in heritage. Through investigation of the provenance and restitution of collections, the researchers seek to deconstruct hegemonic heritage discourses and challenge colonial power structures, and in so doing, develop a new understanding of heritage. The collections of the University of Bonn act as the confluence point for the range of negotiation processes involved with objects and the associated practices, forms of knowledge and origin contexts. As such, the collections constitute a special focal point within the project.

Profile Area Communication

Communication over long distances is a prerequisite for the processes of globalization. Led by the concepts communication and globalization, the researchers of the TRA Present Pasts investigate phenomena such as social inequality and social dependence, migration and mobility and other forms of power relationships. The focus rests on pre-modern forms of communication, to enable a better understanding of their current manifestations within the framework of globalization.

© TRA Present Pasts

Funded Projects

Project leaders: Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch; Prof. Dr. Karoline Noack

Research assistant: Elisabeth Stauß; Carlos Pallan Gayol; Edouard Grigowski

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Matthias Becher

Research assistant: Christine Beyer

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch and Prof. Dr. Maria Gadebusch-Bondio

Student assistant: Carla Nadermann

Project leader: Dr. M. Elisabeth Schwab

Cooperation partner: Prof. Dr. Anthony T. Grafton (Princeton University)

Student assistant: Jill Mylonas

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Ove Sutter

Cooperation partner: City Museum Bonn

Research assistant: Simon Hirzel

Project leaders: Prof. Dr. Michael Schulz, Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Soeffner and Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann

Student assistant: Tizian Holzbach, Kieryn Wurts

Project leader: TRA Present Pasts

Research/Student assistant: Simon Hirzel, Sarah Moll

Project leaders: Prof. Dr. Andrea Stieldorf; PD Dr. Alheydis Plassmann; Prof. Dr. Michael Rohrschneider

Student assistant: Sophia Victoria Clegg

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Michael Schulz

Project leader: PD Dr. Alheydis Plassmann

Project leader: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Maximilian Mayer

Research assistant: Frederik Schmitz

Student assistant: N.N.

Project leaders: PD Dr. Anna Kollatz; Dr. Veruschka Wagner

Project leader: Dr. Lennart Gilhaus

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Sabine Feist

Partner: Prof. Dr. Jan Dietrich, Prof. Dr. Ludwig Morenz, Dr. Maren Elisabeth Schwab, Sebastian Winkelsträter, M.A., Prof. Dr. Harald Wolter-von dem Knesebeck, Dr. Birgit Zacke 

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Jan Bemmann

Research assistant: Dr. Susanne Reichert

Project leaders: Dr. Mario Betz; Dr. Lennart Gilhaus

Student assistant: Gregor Kirilov; Johanna Weiden

Associated Professorships

We are pleased to welcome Prof. Dr. Paul Basu as Hertz Professor of TRA Present Pasts as of 01.06.2022. The internationally renowned anthropologist, curator and critical heritage specialist previously held professorships at SOAS University of London and University College London.

His research and teaching has focused on the intersections of material culture, cultural memory, and migrations of people, things and historical narratives. For the past 20 years his regional specialism has been in West Africa. He has worked extensively with museum collections and archives, often collaborating with local communities to re-engage with historical materials and knowledges sequestered in European institutions. He recently led the very successful Museum Affordances / [Re:]Entanglements project.

At the University of Bonn, Paul Basu will establish a “Global Heritage Lab”. This will provide a platform for experimenting with decolonial approaches to heritage research, exploring what lessons we can learn from the past as we confront the urgent questions of our own time and attempt to imagine more sustainable and just futures for the planet.

Further information will follow

  • Prof. Dr. Judith Pfeiffer (Department of Islamic Studies and Languages of the Middle East; BCDSS)

Prof. Dr. Judith Pfeiffer is the principal investigator at the Department of Islamic Studies and Languages of the Middle East of Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies (IOA) Bonn and holds the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Islamic Studies of the University Bonn since 2016.

She focuses on the Islamicate intellectual history of the late medieval and early modern periods, paying particular attention to historiography, social, intellectual and religious networks, and the circulation of knowledge in the wake of the conversion of the formerly Buddhist Mongol rulers to Islam at the turn of the fourteenth century.

  • Prof. Dr. Maarten Jansen (Profile Area Heritage)

Prof. Dr. Maarten Jansen from Leiden University is teaching and researching at the Department for Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn for two years as part of the "Distinguished Emeritus Professorship" program.

Prof. Dr. Jansen is a world-renowned specialist in the cultural heritage of the indigenous societies of Mexico and Mesoamerica, but especially in the books and codices of pre-Hispanic cultures. As an internationally recognized researcher, he has led numerous major research projects, authored numerous books and over 200 articles, and received many significant awards, including being named a "Ridder in de Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw" by the King of the Netherlands.
Maarten Jansen developed new approaches to the study of the cultural heritage of Mesoamerica, focusing on the iconography and visual communication systems of the cultures of southern Mexico, historical sources (chronicles and archival documents) and contemporary oral traditions, and the representation, social situation, and rights of the indigenous peoples of Mexico in the present. Maarten Jansen is now considered a key initiator of a new research path in deciphering cultural codes.
With him as Professor Emeritus, the University of Bonn is gaining an internationally visible scholar. His interdisciplinary research approaches, his innovative combinations of methods and his openness to new questions enable a stimulating and fruitful exchange within the university far beyond the boundaries of his discipline.

Early-Career Researches-Award 2022

One of the main goals of TRA 5 is to promote and identify excellent young researchers. For this reason, TRA Present Pasts is offering a prize for outstanding dissertations submitted after 1 January 2020. Nominations are open to all members of the University of Bonn whose dissertations pursue an innovative inter/transdisciplinary approach and whose topics fall into at least one of the main profile areas of TRA Present Pasts - Heritage and/or Communication. The highest prize will be awarded with a sum of 2000,- €. Multiple awards are possible.

Associated Research Projects

Completed Research Projects

  • Academy Project: Cults in Cult - Meaning and Function of the Sacral Microcosm in Extraurban Sanctuaries Using the Example of Didyma (Turkey) (2009-2021)
  • Collaborative Research Project SiSi: Excess of Meaning and Reduction of Meaning by, through and with Objects. Materiality of Cultural Techniques for Coping with the Extraordinary (2018-2021)
  • Human-Environment Relationships in pre-Columbian Amazonia (2019-2021)

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