Working Groups

Our working groups are informal meetings of researchers who want to delve deeper into a specific topic.

Working Groups are bottom-up initiatives that can be set within a Research Area, or across one or more Research Areas. Working Groups can be more short-lived than the Research Areas and thus provide a more flexible way of organizing joint research and discussions.  


Working Groups at the BCDSS

In this interdisciplinary working group, we study all facets of asymmetrical dependency in ancient Maya society in Mesoamerica. Our group is open to all people interested in Maya culture, especially to those who want to contribute with their own expertise to illuminate a still unexplored topic.

The problem of studying ancient Maya society

The Maya of the Classic period (ca. 250-900 A.D.) lived in the culture area of Mesoamerica in the territory of the present-day states of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and northwest Honduras. Like all premodern societies in Mesoamerica, they developed without any contact to cultures outside the Americas. As a consequence, many cultural aspects show a strong contrast to the "Old World" and do not allow for direct comparisons, making them difficult to reconstruct. Although the Maya had a complex writing system, little is known about their lives and social conditions. The hieroglyphic texts, which we can understand better nowadays, speak mostly of the nobility, the deeds of the divine rulers, their victories and defeats, diplomatic moves, important rituals, mythical tales, astronomical observations and calendar predictions. However, nothing is ever written about the lives of ordinary people, their rights and duties. Clues on topics such as gender, property, social roles and the social relationships between different status groups are best provided by iconographic representations, archaeological proxies and diachronic analogies.

What we want

Our working group aims to shed light on these issues with a special focus on dependency using various disciplines. We want to explore methods with which we can reconstruct dependencies in ancient Maya society. With settlement and environmental archaeology, we discuss social relations about resource management and the spatial distribution of people and objects. With bioarchaeology, the study of human remains, we look for the effects of violence, the different access to food and health care, etc. With linguistics we investigate terminology and use it to explore culturally internal concepts of dependency. With iconography, epigraphy, colonial ethnohistory and ethnoarchaeology we search for parallels and analogies. By combining these different perspectives, we want to investigate lived experiences of dependency. This includes the agency of dependent actors, which we can explore through archaeological research as well as through the analysis of emic terms from the written and spoken language of contemporary and ancient Maya groups.

The spectrum of our working group is not limited to the Maya and not only to the Classic period, but also requires the observation of neighboring cultures (e.g. Teotihuacan and the Aztec in Central Mexico) and other epochs (e.g. Postclassic and colonial) in order to work out spatial and temporal connections and to use them as references for comparison.

What we are doing

Our activities so far include mainly brainstorming sessions and discussion of literature. However, we are open to new formats and may want to write papers together later.

Who we are

Our working group is thematically located on the courtyard of the BCDSS, thus inviting not only interested members of the cluster to participate in our activities, but also Mayanists, Mesoamerican researchers and students from other institutions around the world.

Contact: Paul Graf,; Nikolai Grube,

“Freedom” is one of the overarching themes of Atlantic History. Particularly when turning to the Americas, many narratives depict freedom as an ultimate goal that, even if unachievable, guided people’s lived experiences. This is even true for those accounts that are not optimistic or recognize freedom as a linear or expeditious process.

There is, however, not always a lot of attention to what freedom means, what it meant in different times and places, and how different people understood it. For example, we can think of freedom largely as not being forced to work against one’s will for the benefit of others. We can also think of it as civil and legal rights or social inclusion in society. Depending on the historical context, all, some, or none of these meanings can make sense.

 Just like the concept of and the ideas behind freedom have been fluid and relational, “Atlantic slavery” is no monolith either. With dramatic variations in place and time, and often fundamentally different experiences for the enslaved, the plural “slaveries” is but a first try to stress the diverse shapes that institutions and processes of slavery took in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. 

 In this vein, and in sync with the primary research agenda of the BCDSS, this working group aims to move beyond the confines of the conceptual binary opposition “slavery/freedom.”  We will do so by, first, considering slavery and freedom not as antithetical but rather as intertwined and mutually constitutive. We are therefore interested in examining how historical actors mobilized certain language, ideas, and ideologies, and to which ends.

 Second, we propose that “slavery” and “freedom”—regardless of the discussions about their definition and meanings—might not fully capture the struggles of the people who have been subjected to forced labor, violence, and exploitation in the Atlantic region. This motivates us to look for other concepts and methods to raise new questions (and answers) to better understand their experiences and to learn how freedom and slavery (including its legacies) impacted other forms of coercion and asymmetrical dependencies.

 This working group is a platform for academic exchange and mutual research support, where attendees are invited to share their work-in-progress with colleagues and peers. It comprises diverse researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds, who are at different stages of their career. We meet regularly (once a month), usually on a Wednesday in the middle of the month. The working group is open to all BCDSS members, fellows, alumni, affiliates, and everyone else interested—everybody is welcome!

If you like to participate, please contact Pia Wiegmink and/or Viola Müller.


Past sessions:

February 8, 2023, 4 PM (CET): Kick-off Meeting (in person and via Zoom).

March 15, 2023, 5-6 PM (CET): “People and Power on the Move: Thinking about Atlantic Slaveries from the Perspective of New Mobility and Migration Studies,” session chaired by Sunčica Klaas (in person and via Zoom).

April 19, 2023, 5-6 PM (CET): Viola Müller: “From Slavery to Illegality? A Comparative Study of Labor Coercion and Capitalism in the Americas, 1840-1914.”

May 24, 2023, 5-6 PM (CET): Justin Roberts: "Fragile Empire: Slavery in the Early English Tropics, 1645-1720."

June 14, 2023: Joseph Biggerstaff : "A global history of Barbadian sugar plantations, 1640-1846.“

July 12, 2023, 5-6 PM (CET): Project presentation,  Damian Pargas (Leiden University): “In the Shadows of Slavery: Free Black Citizenship and Democracy in Antebellum America."

Upcoming sessions:

  • October 18, 2023, no session because of workshop "Child Slaveries in the Early Modern World, 1500-1800,“ (organized by Claudia Jarzebowski, Joseph Biggerstaff  and Lisa Phongsavath).
  • November 15, 2023, "Approaches to Rethinking the Narratives of Slavery and Freedom“ (group discussion).

We define Contemporary Asymmetrical Dependencies (CAD) as all contemporary forms of exploitation, undesired dependency and/or structural inequalities that are either direct historical legacies of slavery or based on slavery-like power relations such as the deprivation of the right to move freely or receive decent compensation for work. These include a range of dependencies, starting from labor exploitation in sweatshops, call centers or other work environments, to various forms of migrant exploitation and human trafficking, down to aspects of the carceral system in the US.

Unlike “known" asymmetrical dependencies in history, i.e. between a patron and a client, contemporary asymmetrical dependencies are characterized by "unknown" relationships between individuals and institutions. These relationships are based on structural violence, which means that the system allows for the responsibility to be passed down to other actors such as supervisors, managers, other workers, etc. Various forms of disciplinary measures and the effects of dependency on the body (physically and mentally) from key aspects in structurally arisen dependencies.

In short, both small and large-scale institutionalized forms of (undesired) exclusion, based on specific features such as social inheritance (caste, slave descent), gender, race, ethnicity, or religious background are considered to be contemporary asymmetrical dependencies.

Why Contemporary Asymmetrical Dependencies (CAD)?
The working group was set up in January 2020 by Dr Lotte Pelckmans (BCDSS fellow 2019–2020) and Sarah Dusend (BCDSS research and study coordinator) in order to give more visibility to and underline the importance of asymmetrical dependencies in the contemporary world. Currently, the majority of researchers at the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies cluster focus on past forms of asymmetrical dependencies, however, a minority of PhD students work on contemporary aspects. Hence the demand for a forum that allows to exchange ideas on contemporary asymmetrical dependencies, which are often connected to the past one way or another. Finally, we intend to contribute to the cluster's promise to generate a debate and public outreach on the topic of asymmetrical dependencies. We are committed to finding ways to do so when addressing ongoing societal issues.

Who is it for?
Everyone interested in contemporary relations of (asymmetrical) dependencies. Our working group consists of researchers covering a large range of subject areas and topics. These include modern slavery, (return) migration, forced labor, exploitation as well as global labor relations, but also spatial dependencies or theoretical discussions.
We are academics, practitioners, development organizations, journalists and welcome anyone with a special interest in contemporary asymmetrical dependencies.

How are we organized?
Our study group holds regular meetings (at least once a fortnight), aimed at intellectual exchange among our members, with a minimum level of administration for the time being. Our aim is to maintain and steadily grow our network.

Our activities include

  • networking
  • exchange of literature and readings
  • offering a platform for discussion of both work and central readings
  • offering a platform for knowledge exchange
  • informal exchange of ideas and learning by doing (everyone should feel free to express themselves and argue openly, be open about intellectual struggles, and share creative approaches)

Our long term goals

  • joint collaboration leading to conferences and/or e.g. a mini seminar series
  • sharing information on relevant activities, websites, and publications in the field
  • public outreach: docs and talks, filmed lectures


We have started ordering important books and works in the field with the library. The list is available here.

All the cluster books, including those related to the topics of CAD, can be found in the central library.

Contact: Alexander Rothenberg,; Francesca Della Ventura,

Initial hypothesis

Against the background of the conceptual framework of the cluster, the working group is interested in two phenomena: 1) human dependency from god, gods, and the divine and 2) divine dependencies, i.e. dependency between divine beings or from human beings and the resulting limitations of divine agencies. These forms of dependency are understood as a special case in the framework of "strong asymmetrical dependencies" as they involve non-human actors. The analysis of dependencies from the divine and of divine dependencies contributes substantially to the deeper understanding of structures of dependency between human actors and in societies of the antique world.

Overarching research questions

Which characteristics, modes and dynamics define the various manifestations of dependency from the divine and divine dependency? How do both perspectives interact? Which differences determine their emergence in varying regional, temporal, cultural, and religious contexts? These questions are addressed with special attention to the Ancient Near East and the Roman Empire.

Special research questions

The projects and research interests of the current group members address

1) a comparative perspective:

  • How do concepts of human dependency from the divine sphere differ in the literary genres (narratives, poems, oracles, etc.) of the "basic texts/holy scriptures" of the monotheistic religions?
  • Are there special conceptual characteristics and consequences of dependency from god to be found in the monotheistic religions alone? Are there common characteristics and consequences? Are there substantial differences between the concepts of dependency from god in the monotheistic religions?
  • What paradoxes arise in anthropological perspective when human freedom is linked to a concept of total "self-enslavement/submission to god" that equates “true faithfulness to god”? Are there specific lines of argument detectable in the monotheistic religions alone? Which ambiguities arise with regard to the respective images of god?

2) the dynamics and the functioning of dependency in human-divine relationships:

  • Are there gradations necessary for fruitfully using the spectrum of "strong/weak" with regard to asymmetrical dependencies when involving non-human actors? Are there reciprocal relationships and reciprocal dependencies recognizable against the simultaneous asymmetrical dependency?
  • How does human agency interact and limit the dependency from the divine (e.g. naming of gods)? Are there cases in which a (partial) restriction of divine agency in the relational structure between god/gods/divine and human beings is assumed, and if so, how are they embedded in the respective overall concept of divine-human dependency?

3) the pragmatics and social functions of the recourse to dependency from the divine:

  • Which stabilizing and restricting social functions of dependencies from the divine are recognizable? What are the consequences of the dependency construction for the sanctioning of apostasy? To what extent does it influence and favor the idea of "total membership"?
  • How is the recourse to dependency from the divine and divine dependencies used for purpose-rational and religious motives or argumentation patterns in certain fields of action (e.g. economy)? Which are the interrelation of semantics and pragmatics in this context? With which intentions is dependency addressed, used, and abused in religious language?
  • How does the recourse to dependency from the divine and divine dependencies contribute to strategies of balancing of power and legitimation of domination? How can/should we differentiate our research on dependency structures from the analysis of discourses around authority, attribution of competence, legitimation and leadership?

Goals and working mode of the working group

The short and medium term goal of the working group is to create a "thinking and discussion space" for the members. Within this framework, the group aims at enriching the research projects of members and at providing a substantial theoretical contribution to the research question of the cluster at the same time. To this end, we alternate between discussing overarching theoretical readings and engaging with special topics and the projects of the members. As a long term goal we aim at a collaborate publication of our findings.


3 meetings per semester (2h-slots).

Upcoming Meetings

  • May 23, 2022, 14–16, via Zoom.
    Topic: “Divine Dependency in Ancient Judaism and Emerging Christianity – Reflections and Case Studies”. Discussion of a working paper by Prof. Dr. Hermut Löhr.
  • July/August, TBA, via Zoom
    Topic:  Discussion of the BCDSS Concept Paper 2/22 “On Dependence, Dependency, and a Dependency Turn. An Essay with Systematic Intent” published by C. Antweiler, who will also join the meeting.

Please contact for the readings and for the Zoom link.

Where: Until further notice, the working group meets via Zoom. It is our goal to switch to on-site meetings as soon as the pandemic situation permits.

Who: All BCDSS-Members and Uni-Bonn researchers whose research is interested in divine dependencies or dependencies from the divine and who wish to develop, to deepen, and to share theoretical and interdisciplinary insights into asymmetrical dependencies when including non-human actors.

Current Members: Ulrich Berges; Christian Blumenthal; Stephan Conermann; Jan Dietrich; Thomas Dorfner; Sabine Feist; Julia Hillner; Hermut Löhr; Wolfram Kinzig; Kirsten M. Schäfers; Julia Winnebeck

Coordination: Ulrich Berges and Kirsten M. Schäfers


This working group takes as its starting point the Environmental Humanities as they intersect with the study of slavery and asymmetrical dependencies. The field of the Environmental Humanities addresses a wide array of ecological and environmentally oriented issues concerning climate change, the weather, environmental pressures, sustainability, globalisation, environmental justice and ethics, resource policy, extraction logics, infrastructure and agrarian politics, land ownership, and many more. As Ursula Heise has succinctly argued, “[t]he environmental humanities [...] envision ecological crises fundamentally as questions of socioeconomic inequality, cultural difference, and divergent histories, values, and ethical frameworks” (The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities 2017, 2).

The potential of the Environmental Humanities lies in expanding on and renegotiating the tenets of natural and technological sciences, with an emphasis on the social, cultural, and political relevance of the humanities as an indispensable part of meeting global challenges – past, present and future. Such an approach is well suited to bring together the BCDSS’s different research areas and focal points within the humanities and social sciences, which combine anthropological, aesthetic, literary, architectural, spatial, archaeological, ethnographic and technological perspectives, all fundamentally informed by historical approaches. An engagement with ecological dependencies can, we believe, offer a valuable critical perspective on questions of strong asymmetrical dependencies.  The working group aims to connect researchers from the Center whose work on slavery and asymmetrical dependencies touch in one way or another on: 

  • the relationship between nature, humans and non-human entities across the humanities and social sciences
  • ecosystems within and beyond individual, local, regional, national, transnational and planetary scales
  • questions of anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric agency and materiality (animal studies, posthumanism, new materialism, ecofeminism)
  • extractive plantation systems and histories of colonialism, capitalism, and racism
    issues of land ownership; land dispossession and extraction
  • non-plantation forms of agricultural slavery
  • climate change, climate justice and environmental crises (pollution; loss of biodiversity; waste; toxicity; epidemics; un/natural disasters)
  • the interrelation of nature and culture in asymmetrical dependencies and the representation of nature-culture relationships in media, text, art, architecture
  • sustainability within the humanities and social sciences, in interaction with philosophy, theology, sociology, economics, arts and literature
  • Representations of nature and ecological dependencies in non-western cultures

The initial aim of this working group is to gather researchers from all research areas of the BCDSS and to engage in critical discussions, shared readings and the conception of an interdisciplinary publication or working paper.


Long term plans for the WG 

  • Reading group meetings to discuss central Environmental Humanities texts and to connect them to scholarship in slavery and dependency studies
  • Internal workshops or seminar series for BCDSS researchers to present their work in the context of ecological dependencies
  • Workshop/conference with external guests and specialists in the field
  • Creation of a public critical bibliography on ecological dependency
  • Collaborative publication projects, such as special issues, edited volumes or a BCDSS working paper

If you are interested in joining the working group, please contact Zeynep Y. Gökce ( and Jennifer Leetsch ( 

The Working Group takes objects as its starting point and aims at registering human and non-human ‘bodies of dependency’. Since the ontological turn has made us aware of the historicity of nature, animals, technology, machines, resources and things (in short, of everything non-human), social history should redefine its position. We understand dependent bodies as “agents”, “mediators”, and “intermediaries” and analyze dependencies between human and non-human actors as “agencements” and forms of “interagency”. Relying on the “Material Turn” and on the new approaches offered by “Body Studies” as well as on recent debates on environmental history, biohistory, and sensory history, this working group discusses “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. 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 working group aims at a methodological reflection on and an increased awareness of the relations between the material and the social spheres as a whole with regard to strong asymmetrical dependencies. In the end, we would like to write together a Concept Paper. 

Coordination: Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann

Contact: Stephan Conermann,

The working group reaches out:

  • to address an issue which cuts across all research areas of the cluster
  • to flag out a perspective which sheds light on various epochs from early and ancient history
  • to the 20th century and our times (and thus to help support current research of the cluster while at the same time reflecting upon the future strategic development of the cluster)
  • to explore frames and contexts of social dependencies
  • to study how power informs both dependencies in small social units (which are at the core of the cluster’s research) and big histories of empires and colonialism
  • to navigate the differences between empire and colonialism in terms of Weberian ideal types while at the same time paying due attention to empirical overlaps throughout history
  • to discuss the thesis – formulated by some of the authors of the recent world history series published by Harvard University Press and C.H. Beck – that empires made colonialism and the modern globalized world (roughly from early modern history onward)
  • to relate that discussion to scholarship as postcolonial studies, dependency theory, Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory and publications which say that in our politically decolonized world global flows of commodities and thus economies are still informed by dependencies reminiscent of colonialism (which also means to reflect upon the relation between dependency and inequality)
  • to put heritages of imperialism and colonialism and their current critiques on display as a link between past and present: in taking down monuments of colonial actors or at least debating their status western societies are becoming aware of how colonialism and its heritage still inform western ways of thinking and theorizing the world and notions of culture, society and economy. Can we differentiate decolonization into three phases – political, economic and cultural – with the latter two still on the agenda of the world we live in?

Contact: Martin Aust and Taynã Tagliati Souza, and

The Gender Reading Group was created from the initiative of two PhD candidates belonging to RA E7, Dita Auziņa8 and Danitza Márquez9. Since its inception in September last year, the group has brought together RA E members and interested BCDSS colleagues to discuss current debates in gender and intersectionality studies and to reflect on approaches to gender, gender relations and the intersections between these and related categories in our research on slavery and (strong) asymmetrical dependencies.

To begin our activities with a common background, our first four sessions (September – November 2020) were focused on the discussion of some ‘canonical’ literature. The pre-selection of texts was done in collaboration with senior members of the RA. During the second phase (November 2020 – May 2021), in the spirit of interdisciplinarity, several participants organized their own thematic sessions. These sessions were framed by the particular interests of group members and aimed to address the theoretical challenges of their ongoing research. They provided active space for participants to work together and explore interpretations of gender relations and intersectionality from their diverse contexts and standpoints.

During the third phase (in June 2021), members discussed texts produced by peer members, as well as the BCDSS concept paper in light of RA E’s objectives. As a result of our past endeavours, and thanks to the growing number of members in the RA, the group will continue to move forward in addressing the connections between gender, intersectionality, and (strong) asymmetrical dependencies in this productive format.

Up until now, most of the meetings have been held online in intervals of two or three weeks. A total of fifteen sessions have already taken place. For the winter term 2021/22 we plan to hold monthly sessions in hybrid form, restarting in November. The GRG is coordinated by PhD candidates10 and advised by senior members of RA E7. As time goes by, and as Dita and Danitza resume their fieldwork, we are very happy to announce that our colleague Lisa Phongsavath11, PhD candidate, has now joined the coordination team. If you would like to take part in our sessions, please send an email to and, and we will add you to the mailing list.

Full content here12

In this working group, we explore the manifold possibilities of applying narratological approaches to the analysis of different texts, text types and genres related to strong asymmetrical forms of dependency, be it autobiographical "slave narratives", historiographic texts, normative sources, literary works, or archive material. We also seek to integrate colleagues working with artefacts, or even performative material, such as music.

We do not understand narratives as purely literary art forms, but as phenomena that are closely interconnected with the reality of life and thus with history. Narration provides cultural patterns of understanding which, in its diverse manifestations, can be found in every human society and which is central to practically every expression of human cultural action.

Narratology as a discipline dedicated to the study of the logic, principles, and practices of narrative representation also offers an approach that is not restricted to the study of texts as literary objects of art: "Narratology applies to virtually every cultural object"(Mieke Bal 1999, 19).

Narratology has developed, over the past decades, from being a structuralist approach to literary texts, to offering a methodology that considers the discursive strategies of texts as well as their socio-historical context of the origin and their reception. With its specific "toolkit", its analytical questions, narratology is an excellent basis for interdisciplinary and transcultural comparison, as other initiatives have already proven. With our working group, we build upon the work of the Bonn Center for Transcultural Narratology 131313.

What we do
We meet on a monthly basis to explore the methodological framework of narratology, its application and, possibly, adaptation required by our source material. We also seek to strengthen the collaboration with external partners of the BZTN and to forge new partnerships inside the University of Bonn and beyond. Most importantly, the group will provide an open space for testing what may be gained by applying narratological approaches to different forms of narratives and discussing methods and results among colleagues.

The first signpost activity on the working group's schedule is the conference Narratives of Dependency, to be held in June or July 2021, during which members of the working group will present case studies. A preparatory workshop has been held in July 2020.

There is a large body of theoretical and methodological literature on (transcultural) narratology. A reading list will be discussed during the first meeting. Please note that most texts on transcultural and cultural-historical approaches in narratology are in German.

Coordination: Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann444 (Speaker), Prof. Dr. Marion Gymnich1414 (Principal Investigator), Dr. Anna Kollatz1515 (Investigator)

Who: BCDSS members and M.A. students, researchers affiliated with the BZTN, everybody interested in narratology and its application to sources related to strong asymmetrical forms of dependency.

Contact: Miriam Quiering,

The Working Group Life Writing aims at bringing together scholars working in different fields of dependency and slavery studies interested in questions pertaining to issues of life writing: in order to provide a generative interdisciplinary framework, the group proceeds from an expansive definition of life writing comprising a broad range of texts and media (autobiographies, letters, travel reports, testimonial records, diary entries, court documents, tomb inscriptions, archives, clothing as well as other textual, material practices involved in recording and navigating lives).

Life writing can function as an important avenue into the study of dependencies. While the slave narrative was a popular genre in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Atlantic world and has undergone intense scholarly scrutiny, forms of life writing produced in other historical, cultural, and geographical contexts of asymmetrical dependency have received much less attention. The Working Group wants to examine socio-political and economic contexts and challenges to the production of life writing, its respective cultural peculiarities, its potential transcultural patterns and modes of circulation, and the literary and aesthetic conventions informing life writing.

We also want to reflect on the methodological and epistemological challenges we encounter in the study of life writing produced in the context of dependency and slavery: Not only were people living in social relations of asymmetrical dependency often prevented from learning how to read and write, but archives of slavery and dependency usually privilege records of enslavers and those in power.


Prof. Dr. Pia Wiegmink, Dr. Jennifer Leetsch


What we do
Sessions will introduce field-defining theories of life writing and individual projects by Cluster members, aiming at combining theory with primary material. We meet on a monthly basis to exchange ideas about different interdisciplinary approaches and to examine the use and applicability of life writing theories and methods to our research. Readings will be uploaded to the corresponding Sciebo folder before meetings. Each session focuses on a specific case study in combination with potential methodological approaches and is organized by one or several of the Working Group members. Everyone can make suggestions for future sessions at any point. 


All interested BCDSS members, MA students, and everybody else interested in life writing are welcome.


Past Sessions

  1. Session: An Introduction to Life Writing: Reading the Basics (February 2022) 
  2. Session: The Slave Narrative: Agency and Dependency in Life Writing (March 2022)
  3. Session: 'Lebensläufe' of Enslaved Moravians (May 2022)
  4. Session: Relaciones de Meritos y Servicios (June 2022)
  5. Session: Written Narratives of Nineteenth Century Recaptured West Africans (September 2022, Mary A. Afolabi-Adeolu)
  6. Session: Silences And/In Archives: Epistemological and Methodological Challenges of Retrieving Enslaved Lives (October 2022, Amalia S. Levi)
  7. Session: The Case of an 'Elite Slave': Norms of Respectability and Narrating the Self in Early Modern South Asia (November 2022, Emma Kalb)
  8. Session: Imperial and Religious Dependency in Tibetan Medieval (Auto)Hagiography (January 2023; Lewis Doney)
  9. Session: Being a Serf in the Russian Empire: a life between accepting and struggling. Based on the Memoirs of Savva D. Purlevskii, 1800-1868 (February 2023, Elena Smolarz)
  10. Session: Reflection and Regroup (March 2023)
  11. Session: The Protocols of Dependency in 19th century African American Life Writing (April 2023, Pia Wiegmink)   
  12. Session: The European ‘explorer’ of the West African Interior as Captive and Witness: The 1799 travelogue of Mungo Park (May 2023, Jutta Wimmler)


Upcoming sessions:

Session 13: Technological (Un)Freedoms in the Post-Reconstruction Slave Narrative: Sunshine and Shadow of Slave Life by Isaac D. Williams (September 14, 2023, Suncica Klaas)

Session 14: Enslaved women in Latin American colonial court records: on testimonies, biographies, life trajectories. (Early Nov 2023: Carolina González)

Session 15: Workshop Life Writing and Dependency, Dec. 6, 2023, 9-18.00 

Session16:  Marriage, Enslavement and Agency: How a Roma woman came under the rule of an Orthodox hieromonk.  (Jan. 2024, Cristina Mocanu)


Potential future sessions
Critical Postcolonial Perspectives on Life Writing; Mediated Life Writing: Voices in Inquisition and Missionary Records; Transcultural Life Writing; African  Life Writings; Legal Texts and/as Life Writing, Material Culture and/as Life Writing; Life Writing and Digital Humanities Research …

Please contact Pia Wiegmink and Jennifer Leetsch if you‘d like to participate:;

The Working Group “Ottoman Slavery” was initiated to bring together scholars who are dedicated to a common field of research. The aim of this working group is to provide scholars with the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas on the topic of slavery and other forms of asymmetrical dependencies in the Ottoman Empire. Members of the working group are doing research on slavery and asymmetrical dependencies in different periods and regions of the Ottoman Empire using various sources such as archival materials, travelogues, correspondences, and manuscripts. The research area of the group members ranges from non-elite household slaves to elite female slaves, child slaves as well as slave agency and mobility in the Black Sea region, Istanbul and other cities in the Ottoman Empire during the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The participants aim at incorporating their research on Ottoman Empire with recent scholarship and theoretical debates on slavery and asymmetrical dependencies.

The Working Group also plays a role as a platform where scholars can network and exchange knowledge. At regular meetings, participants talk about their ongoing projects, exchange questions, share source materials and focus on current discussions and debates concerning this topic. The Working Group is dedicated to contribute to the scholarship with future research papers of the members. Joint future activities and collaborations towards workshops, research and book projects are envisaged as long-term goals.

Who we are
Current members with their specific research focus:

The PhD Forum is an informal interdisciplinary working group in which PhD Researchers at the BCDSS and (upon invitation) partner institutions reflect together on diverse themes, theories, and methods from the perspective of asymmetrical dependency studies and in light of their individual research projects. 

The group was established by BCDSS doctoral researchers and its first meeting was held in April 2023. Meetings of the PhD Forum are conducted in a hybrid format (in-person and via Zoom) and on an ad hoc basis. Dates and discussion topics are decided collectively while logistics are organized by the PhD Forum Coordination Team in advance of each meeting.

“Workshops” or “seminars” for which PhD researchers can gain academic credit are often planned in response to a desire within the forum to develop greater knowledge or skills regarding a specific theme. 


Current members of the PhD Forum Coordination Team: 

Ayesha Hussain
Amalia S. Levi
David B. Smith

Past PhD Forum Meetings: 

  • April 26th, 2023, “Forum on ‘The Analytical Concept of Asymmetrical Dependency’ by Winnebeck et al. (2023)’”


Upcoming PhD Forum Meetings: 

  • October 19th, 2023, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., “Forum on Network Analysis & Asymmetrical Dependency Research”


If you have questions about the BCDSS PhD Forum, please contact BCDSS PhD Researchers are encouraged to suggest topics for discussion via email at any time.  

History and theory are often thought as detached dimensions, increasingly less, fortunately, by historians themselves. Especially when it comes to new historical topics or to thinking through new ways of dealing with them, such as dependency, it seems necessary to us to enrich and replenish this process of thinking and intellectual debate in theoretical regards. The founding members of this group (Joseph Biggerstaff, Claudia Jarzebowski, Eva Lehner, Julia Schmidt), are aware that dependency is certainly not a new topic in historical studies; it is rather a matter of outlining and establishing dependency as a distinct perspective and, if necessary, category in recent historical and cultural studies and determining its analytical add-on value against the backdrop of expanding postcolonial epistemologies and paradigm formation. We therefore read and discuss both older theoretical texts and approaches (e.g. Marxism, structural anthropology) and newer ones, e.g. resources, eco-socialism, human-animal studies. The aim is to present a range of theoretical concepts and to introduce them into the many discussions of our respective research in ways that are aware of their temporality and positionality. The workshops and discussion events aim at all BCDSS members and those interested from the University of Bonn.


Summer term 2023

History and Theory – Early Modern Study Group

Workshop: "Child Slaveries in the Early Modern World, 1500-1800"

Workshop: "Beyond Environmentalism: Ecosocialism and Dependency in Anthropological Perspective"

Winter term 2022/2023

History and Theory - Early Modern Colloquium Series 

Workshop on Marxism and Dependency

How do we handle terminologies of asymmetrical dependencies that appear in our sources? We propose that we need to be careful when adopting the terms used for certain practices and social relations in the textual sources we work with (like “slave,” “servant,” etc). Consequently, we first need to disentangle the meanings of our source’s terms within their own time and context. In a second step, we need to look for analytical vocabulary that moves us beyond the language of our sources and allows for comparisons. To this end, we explore a broad range of theories and methods from various disciplines.

What we do
We meet every 4-6 weeks to exchange ideas about different interdisciplinary approaches and learn about each other’s research. While we circulate readings beforehand that form the basis of our discussion, we follow a very hands-on practical approach to these texts: we seek to test the applicability of theories and methods to our own research. We do this through “writing exercises:” participants are asked to upload 2-3 pages ahead of the meeting, where they ponder if and how the proposed approach(es) are applicable to their own research. By doing this, we also learn about each other’s research and test out the value of theoretical and methodological models in an interdisciplinary setting.

Each session focuses on a specific methodological and/or theoretical problem or approach and is organized by one or several of the participants. Everyone can make suggestions for future sessions at any point. The session organizers select a maximum of 60 pages of text (= c. 1-3 texts). The participants agree to read these pages and write a short reflection on the contents and how they relate to their own research (2-3 pages). These “writing exercises” are uploaded to the corresponding sciebo folder in advance.

Coordination: Jeannine Bischoff, Jutta Wimmler, Pia Holste

When: Upcoming sessions:

  • 7th April, 2022, 13:00–15:00: Prisons Replacing Slavery? The Legacy of Coerced Work in Prisons. Organised by Ludolf Pelizaeus.
  • 12th May, 2022, 10:00-12:00: “Asymmetrical Dependency” and “Dependency Theory”: How Are They Related? Organised by Mary Afolabi, Boluwatife Akinro, Ricardo Márquez, Jutta Wimmler, Lukas Wissel.
  • 23rd June, 2022, 10:00-12:00: Before AsD (Part I): Previous Attempts to Move Beyond Slavery and Freedom. Organised by Lukas Wissel, Jutta Wimmler, Ricardo Márquez, Boluwatife Akinro, Mary Afolabi.

Who: All interested BCDSS members and MA students are welcome. BCDSS Fellows are especially invited to join. 

Contact: Pia Holste,

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