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Research Area B: Embodied Dependencies

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Giving Back the Voices to the "Silent" Actors of History

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In Research Area B, we approach the phenomenon of slavery and other types of strong asymmetrical dependencies by taking into consideration a pre-colonial perspective. We aim at establishing archaeology, art history, and object-based anthropology on an equal level with other disciplines of the humanities that focus on written sources.

Research Area B takes objects as its starting point and aims to capture human and non-human "bodies of dependency". We will establish an inventory of material evidence of asymmetrical dependencies and their range of expression and information equaling the written word in importance.

Relying on recent debates on environmental history and biohistory, this research area aims to relativize the Western focus on written culture from a pre-colonial perspective. Many societies that were not affected by Western colonization were oral societies. Here a verbal agreement could weigh heavier than a written contract – thus the normative or guiding effect of an object or image would be just as strong as that of a legal text elsewhere. The fact that many scholars tend to consider a lack of written traditions to be indicative of an inherently deficient source situation reflects a modern Western "inherited learning disability" in terms of reading artefacts.

Therefore, one aim of this research area is to correct the widespread asymmetry in the academic evaluation of written and non-written traditions. The deficit in terms of material evidence seems all the more crucial because social history has advocated giving back their voices to the "silent" actors of history, and examining the experiences of oppression and the scope of action within human communities. However, this research area will not concentrate on the "silent voices" but on the – supposedly – "silent bodies", which encompass written descriptions of bodies and objects of social dependency as well as purely material traditions.

We will examine "embodied dependencies" from archaeological, art-historical and anthropological perspectives as well as from the viewpoint of a praxeologically and body-historically oriented history and social science. Our goal here is expressly to foster the dialogue between object- and text-based disciplines and to render embodied dependencies "legible" (again) as multi-dimensional research objects. We therefore explicitly seek to examine dependent bodies not just as discursive constructs, but also as material, resilient and autonomous. They are not just regarded as objects of imagination and representation, but also as sites of social practices. We understand dependent bodies as "agents", "mediators", and "intermediaries" and analyze even dependencies between human and non-human actors as "agencements" and forms of "interagency".

Detailed Research Agenda


Download the detailed research agenda of Research Area B: Embodied Dependencies here.

Members of Research Area B


Julia Hegewald  Prof. Dr. Julia A. B. Hegewald
 Research Area Speaker
Martin Bentz  Prof. Dr. Martin Bentz
 Research Area Speaker
Dita Auzina  Dita Auzina, M.A.
 Secondary Affiliation
Jan Bemmann  Prof. Dr. Jan Bemmann
 Main Affiliation
Paul Graf  Paul Graf, M.A.
 Main Affiliation
Nikolai Grube  Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Nikolai Grube
 Main Affiliation
Christian Mader  Dr. Christian Mader
 Main Affiliation
Ludwig Morenz  Prof. Dr. Ludwig D. Morenz
 Main Affiliation
Karoline Noack  Prof. Dr. Karoline Noack
 Secondary Affiliation
Jahfar Shareef Pokkanali  Jahfar Shareef Pokkanali,
 M.A. & M.Phil.

 Main Affiliation
Bethany Walker  Prof. Dr. Bethany J. Walker
 Secondary Affiliation
Patrick Zeidler  Patrick Zeidler, M.A.
 Main Affiliation
Michael Zeuske  Prof. Dr. Michael
 Max Paul Zeuske

 Secondary Affiliation

Projects and Events


Open Access Handbook of Semantics of Asymmetrical Dependencies

The first step will be to collect bodies of dependency in their historical breadth and variety and to place them within the respective predominant object languages. The evaluation of material evidence of enslavement and other forms of asymmetrical dependencies, depictions of enslaved and dependent people in images or buildings or descriptions of their bodies must be linked to the object semantics of the respective society or culture. This means that we will also concentrate on the ways architectural and material remains can express power and sovereignty, or migration and displacement.

The second step will be to relate the reconstruction of these material contexts to abstract object semantics, which can then be included in the collaboratively developed handbook on Semantics of Asymmetrical Dependency (cf. collaborative results in research area A) and serve to establish an image and object language on equal terms with the written language. For example, the image language of extreme violence and oppression in the religious art of South Asia has to be seen in relation to the semantics of violence in religious and philosophical writings originating in the same region.

Thirdly, the dialogue between researchers working with objects and those working with texts and the interdisciplinary exchange between archaeology, ethnohistory, art history, museology, historical praxeology and body history in this research area aims to stimulate methodological reflection on and an increased awareness of the relations between the material and the social spheres as a whole. The collaborative study of human and non-human bodies as multi-dimensional sites of asymmetrical dependency and the combination of object- and body-based approaches and methods in an interdisciplinary cluster group on asymmetrical dependencies promises important in sights and new findings for a very topical debate in the context of the anthropocene.

Collaborative Project: Exhibition "Bodies of Asymmetrical Dependencies"

In cooperation with the various collections and museums of UoB and of the region, a touring exhibition focusing on ‘bodies of dependency’ will be developed. A scientific companion volume and a digital atlas with an interactive depiction of the archeological sites of the artefacts and bodies that constitute part of the exhibition and have been researched will guarantee long-term safeguarding of the research results. Moreover, a digital learning management system will be developed for use in (university) museums as well as in schools in order to familiarize museum workers, visitors, teachers and pupils with the social history of artefacts. This research area will thus contribute to the dissemination of research results achieved within the cluster into society. It will be embedded in and further the digitalization strategy of UoB, which is connected to the University’s collections and museums to a considerable extent, and increase the international visibility of research done in the humanities.


Workshops and Seminars

Workshops and seminars of the Research Area B can be found on our events website.


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