The Forum Transregionale Studien – its Mission and History

By Stefanie Rentsch

The business office of the Forum Transregionale Studien moved into new quarters last fall at Wallotstrasse 14, just a few steps away from the main building of the Wissenschaftskolleg. In comparison with the working rooms the Wissenschaftskolleg had provided in the Villa Jaffé until Summer 2013, the Forum now has at its disposal more offices and its own venue for events. This move is important in two ways for the Forum: first, it remains in close proximity to the Wissenschaftskolleg, the intellectual and organizational germ cell of the Forum, and second, it has permitted an expansion of its work, with more space for staff.

Today, the Forum is a highly networked research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences in Germany. Its work thereby responds to the interweaving of business, politics, communications, and culture, which has grown ever greater in recent decades and which affects all areas of  contemporary life –from the level of a country’s politics to the individual’s perceptions and experiences of his daily existence. At the same time, globalization is a challenge to the sciences and disciplines, to the prevailing narrative, and, even more, to the very order of knowledge. The Forum’s activities  are based on the premise that, in many ways, the humanities and social sciences – as currently organized academically, disciplinarily, and often in terms of the nation state –no longer adequately address the questions and problems that stem from a highly networked and globalized world. Knowledge is still too often tied to geographical position, and transregional studies, as the Forum advocates them, attempt to overcome this and work toward integrating a multiplicity of perspectives. The way forward, therefore, does not seem to be research based on 1:1 relationships between Germany and other countries but developing ways to promote communication amongst the different regions of the world. The goal is, thus, not a German or European view of the world, but to promote dialog and interchanges with researchers from other parts of the world. Not only are the objects of study “transregional”, but also the processes and personnel involved in this work. (For further details, see www.forum-transregionale-studien.de/forum/ueber-uns/transregionale-studien.html)

With its work focused on bringing regionally specific competences together and  on exploring questions  about processes of transregional and transcultural exchange, the aims of the Forum Transregionale Studien are closely related to those of the earlier research project “Circulation of Knowledge. Transregional Studies”. The Federal State of Berlin funded this research project as an international research association from 2004 to 2009 and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin also provided strong organizational support during that period. One of the starting points of “Circulation of Knowledge. Transregional Studies” was the previous working group “Modernity and Islam” (AKMI, 1996-2006). Its work has been continued in the current program “Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe” (EUME).  

To deal with the opportunities for and the challenges to the humanities and social sciences that result from increasing worldwide networking, the Forum has further developed the concepts and working instruments of the project “Circulation of Knowledge” since its foundation in 2009. Among them are its research programs that pose innovative questions to make various forms of international scientific and scholarly collaboration possible. Four research programs with different disciplinary orientations are currently being carried out under the umbrella of the Forum; each invites researchers from all over the world to Germany through its own Fellowship programs. The Forum began this work in 2010 by fostering research programs in the fields of philology (Future Philology: Revisiting the Canons of Textual Scholarship), jurisprudence (Rechtskulturen: Confrontations beyond Comparison), and urban sociology (Global Prayers, finished in 2013). The aforementioned program Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME) was renewed in 2011. In 2013, the program Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices was initiated. The Forum has invited 33 postdoctoral stipend holders to Berlin for the academic year 2013/2014; another six researchers are affiliated with the program (cf. www.forum-transregionale-studien.de/forum/programme-am-forum.html).

Like the Fellows at the Wissenschaftskolleg, the Forum’s Fellows have the opportunity to work on their own research projects and to network among themselves. In contrast to the Kolleg, however, Forum Fellows do not all live near Wallotstrasse but throughout the city, since their workplaces are lodged in disciplinarily relevant institutions. For example, some of the literary historians and linguists are at the Friedrich-Schlegel-Schule of the Freie Universität Berlin and some of the art scholars are at the Staatliche Museen Berlin. In this geographical dispersion within the city, the individual projects should have some impact on Berlin’s research landscape and scientific institutions.

Among the Forum’s activities are also various kinds of events, like exploratory workshops, conferences, and Summer and Winter Academies. These expand the Forum’s  intellectual and academic scope to build networks with international research perspectives. Not only do new questions and subjects emerge in these various meetings but the activities and discussions aid  the further development of the German research landscape. (www.forum-transregionale-studien.de/forum/veranstaltungen.html)

This year, for example, the Forum and the Max Weber Foundation have extended invitations to the EUME Summer Academy “Conflict and Mobility: Urban Space, Youth and Social Transformations” in Rabat and, under the title “Language, Science and Aesthetics – Articulations of Subjectivity and Objectivity in the Modern Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia” in Beirut. In the fall, a Winter Academy and a conference in Berlin will deal with the thematically complex subject “Inequality, Education and Social Power”.

Strengthening communication amongst researchers is an essential element of the work of the Forum. Accordingly, the Forum and its cooperation partner, the Max Weber Foundation - German Humanities Institutes Abroad, are developing new methods of scientific and scholarly communication. Among them, in the sphere of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, is “TRAFO- Beiträge zur transregionalen Forschung” (TRAFO – contributions to transregional research, http://trafo.hypotheses.org). The staff of the business office is currently working on launching a publication forum that, in the spirit of the worldwide Open Access movement, will make the scholarly results of the work of the Forum and its programs available on the Internet free of charge. The Forum also provides information on its initiatives and research programs four times a year in its own newsletter. With its activities, the Forum increasingly reaches beyond Berlin and provides thematic impetus all over Germany, particularly in the field of Area Studies.

The Forum is headed by a four-person Executive Board consisting of the Professor of African History, Dr. Andreas Eckert (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin); the Professor of Latin American Studies, Dr. Marianne Braig (Freie Universität Berlin); the Professor of History, Dr. Sebastian Conrad (Freie Universität Berlin); and the Professor of Arabic Studies, Dr. Friederike Pannewick (Philipps-Universität Marburg). In scholarly matters, in particular in deciding on new programs and on the appointment of Fellows, the Executive Board is supported by an internationally composed Academic Advisory Board. The Academic Coordinator Georges Khalil heads the business office. The funding of the Forum’s business office, programs, and initiatives comes from the Senate Administration of the Federal State of Berlin, private foundations, and the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).