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The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations

Two universities, four non-university research institutions in Berlin, one project: The excellence cluster entitled “Topoi – The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations” pools the strengths present in Berlin in the study of the ancient world.

Source: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Funding period: 2007–2017

The researchers within the cluster are studying the systematic connection between space and knowledge structures in the cultures of the Near East and Mediterranean, from early civilizations to late antiquity and the early medieval period. The topics addressed range from the reconstruction of ancient landscapes through archaeology and the Earth sciences to the political and social organization of spaces within a historical perspective and describing them with images and text and beyond, to the scientific construction of spaces within ancient philosophy and mathematics.

The proposal, which was submitted jointly by Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, is the product of cooperation among all of the institutions in Berlin that study antiquity. There is no other city in Germany where the cultures of the ancient world are as big a presence as they are in Berlin. The Museum Island, in 1999 declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and part of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), is home to the Pergamon Altar and the Babylonian Ishtar Gate with its reconstructed Processional Way, along with a number of other celebrated monuments. In the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, the Topoi Center of Excellence presented its work to the interested public. The exhibition “Beyond the Horizon” (June 22 to September 30, 2012) gave insights into the research approaches and topics investigated during the first funding phase. The exhibition attracted more than 100,000 visitors.

Berlin is also home to the headquarters of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), which engages in research and excavations and provides funding for archaeological work in the countries of the ancient world. Scholars at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) edit ancient inscriptions and texts and interpret them from various perspectives. The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science studies knowledge systems used in the ancient world.

In addition, Berlin is also a hub of university teaching and research on the cultures of the ancient world. Together, Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität offer an unmatched breadth of disciplines having to do with the cultures of the ancient world, including Egyptology, ancient Near Eastern studies, various fields of archaeology, classical languages and literatures, history, and philosophy. These areas of focus and strength in research activities and the capital invested toward research have now been pooled within this excellence cluster.

This successful model of interdisciplinary collaboration between institutions was placed in a long-term structure, when the Berliner Antike-Kolleg (BAK) was opened in May 2011. The Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies at BAK offers interdisciplinary doctoral programs along the lines of the work done by researchers connected with Topoi.

Spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Gerd Graßhoff (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer (Freie Universität Berlin)

Contact: Dr. Hauke Ziemssen, Tel. +49 30 838-52249

For further information, please see the TOPOI website.