Research Area A: Semantics – Lexical Fields – Narratives

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Freedom and Liberation in Mediterranean Antiquity

International Conference, 5-8 October 2022

In Research Area A, we approach the phenomenon of slavery and other types of strong asymmetrical dependencies from three methodologically and theoretically distinct perspectives: (1) Semantics, (2) Lexical Fields and (3) Narratives.

(1) Semantics

Our approach to the semantics of the many different (predominantly pre-modern) languages we are interested in focuses on the word, i.e., the lexical dimension, as well as on pragmatics, in so far as meaning often turns out to be dependent on the contexts in which a word is used. We aim at identifying inventories of linguistic items (and their usage) that are pertinent to our topic at a particular time and in a specific historical (con)text.

Most of us will first adopt a synchronic approach and focus on a single text or a small set of texts. These case studies will allow us to compare different ways of conceptualizing asymmetrical dependencies linguistically. Our approach is based on the assumption that the meaning of a word can only be identified by taking its usage into consideration. Detailed analyses of key terms that are associated with the conceptualization of strong asymmetrical dependencies promise to provide new insights into the self-concept and knowledge of pre-modern societies.

(2) Lexical Fields

Our understanding of lexical fields is based on an onomasiological approach – which linguistic items are used to refer to a concept? Which words are used to express a concept? This means that the concept is a semantic unit. We are interested in single concepts such as wisdom or fear, but also in more complex semantic units like strong asymmetrical dependencies.

We consider concepts to be abstract units that are manifested in a particular language. In some cases, we can identify anthropological constants, which suggest that there are at least some universal concepts.

What provides deeper insight into the specific societies we are interested in is an analysis of the concrete expressions of concepts, which may look similar, but usually are not identical for people in different cultural contexts and language communities. A lexical field encompasses the set of linguistic items in one language that can be linked to a particular concept (e.g., wisdom) and the related conceptual network due to semantic relations.

In comparative studies, which seek to examine different cultural contexts, the concept of lexical fields promises to be enormously useful, since it is a tool that helps us to reveal differences in terms of usage associated with otherwise similar concepts.

(3) Narratives

We also focus on the analysis of narratives of slavery and other forms of strong asymmetrical dependencies. Our definition of the term narrative text is based on Dietrich Weber (Erzählliteratur: Schriftwerk, Kunstwerk, Erzählwerk. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998).

A narrative text is always a form of cultural self-perception and self-reflection. We define culture as the interaction of material, social and mental phenomena.

So by studying the mental dimension of the culture with the help of the methods supplied by literary studies we can try to reconstruct the system of values, norms, ideologies and collective concepts that is typical of a society, since this system (or at least segments thereof) manifests in condensed form in narratives. However, narratives of slavery and other forms of strong asymmetrical dependencies do not represent cultural realities mimetically; nor can they be accounted for in terms of straightforward relations of cause and effect. Instead, such narratives articulate individual and collective experiences, restructure these experiences and, last but not least, may have a significant impact on cultural symbolic inventories.

Research Area A - Structures

  • Dr. Jutta Wimmler, Research Area Speaker
  • Mailk Ade, Secondary Affiliation
  • Boluwatife Akinro, Main Affiliation
  •  Prof. Dr. Matthias Becher, Secondary Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Ulrich Berges, Secondary Affiliation
  • Jeannine Bischoff, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Elke Brüggen, Main Affiliation
  • Dr. Claude Chevaleyre, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann, Main Affiliation
  • Sarah Dusend, Secondary Affiliation
  • Zeynep Gökçe, Main Affiliation
  • Magnus Goffin, Secondary Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Marion Gymnich, Secondary Affiliation
  • Clara Hedtrich, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfram Kinzig, Secondary Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Hermut Löhr, Main Affiliation
  • Susana Macias Pascua, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Judith Pfeiffer, Main Affiliation
  • Alexander Rothenberg, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Markus Saur, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Martin Schermaier, Secondary Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Christian Schwermann, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Peter Schwieger, Main Affiliation
  • Dr. Elena Smolarz, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stichweh, Secondary Affiliation
  • Dr. Jutta Wimmler, Main Affiliation
  • Dr. Julia Winnebeck, Secondary Affiliation
  • Narratology in Slavery and Dependency Studies


Avatar Wimmler

Dr. Jutta Wimmler

Research Area A Representative and Researcher and Coordinator of Research Group "The Concept of Slavery in African History"

Niebuhrstraße 5

53113 Bonn

+49 228 73 62563

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