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.

© Bialek/Uni Bonn
© 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

Early-Career Researches-Award 2022

One of the main goals of the TRA Present Pasts is to promote and identify excellent young researchers. Ms. Mai Le Quyen, who was nominated by Prof. Dr. Christoph Antweiler, receives the TRA Present Pasts 2022 Young Researcher Award for her dissertation entitled "TALES OF HERITAGIZATION. Networks, flows and community involvement at World Heritage sites in Vietnam".

The evaluation states that her work fulfils the evaluation criteria of the TRA Present Pasts  in an outstanding way, as "it deals with both focal points – communication and cultural heritage – and combines them with each other. In doing so, she takes a participatory and methodologically innovative approach and the result is a work that also empirically transfers a previously unexplored field into research. Furthermore [...] this historically dimensioned work contains (implicit) suggestions for the future design of World Heritage processes."

Congratulations to the prizewinner!

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.

Here you can find further information about Prof. Dr. Paul Basu.

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.

Research Projects in the content-related Focus of the TRA Present Pasts

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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