Research Area B: Embodied Dependencies

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.

What we do

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".

Collaborative Project: Exhibition "Slavery in Context: Materialities of Asymmetrical Dependencies"

In cooperation with the various collections and museums of the University of Bonn and of the region, a touring exhibition focusing on "Slavery in Context: Materialities of Asymmetrical Dependencies" 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 the University of Bonn, 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.

Research Area B - Structures

  • Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Nikolai Grube, Research Area Speaker
  • Mailk Ade, Secondary Affiliation
  • Dita Auziņa, Main Affiliation
  • Dr. Dennis Mario Beck, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Jan Bemmann, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Martin Bentz, Main Affiliation
  • Claire Conrad, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Sabine Feist, Main Affiliation
  • Paul Graf, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Julia A. B. Hegewald, Main Affiliation
  • Dr. Sinah Kloß, Main Affiliation 
  • Dr. Christian Mader, Main Affiliation  
  • Prof. Dr. Ludwig D. Morenz, Main Affiliation
  • Lena Muders, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Karoline Noack, Secondary Affiliation
  • Jahfar Shareef Pokkanali, Main Affiliation
  • Taynã Tagliati Souza, Main Affiliation
  • Tamia Viteri Toledo, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Bethany J. Walker, Main Affiliation
  • Patrick Zeidler, Main Affiliation
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Max Paul Zeuske, Secondary Affiliation


Avatar Grube

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Nikolai Grube

Research Area B Representative

Oxfordstr. 15

53113 Bonn

49 228 73 7412

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