SIAS Summer Institute 2013/2014 "Cultural Encounters: Global Perspectives and Local Exchanges, 1750-1940"

July 29 to August 9, 2013, Berlin, Germany, organized by the Wissenschaftskolleg
August 3 to 16, 2014, National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA

Call closed January 15, 2013

This Summer Institute proposes to examine first encounters between Westerners (including overseas settlers) and non-Westerners from 1750 to 1940 and the questions they raise about the possibilities of understanding between European and non-European cultures. Within the five centuries of European expansion, imperialism, and decolonization, the phrase “cultural encounters” refers to the understandings and misunderstandings that took place as people from different parts of the world met face to face, often with little or no previous knowledge of one another. How at the local level did cultural encounters reshape the arts around the world? How were encounters not merely local, but conditioned by regional, national, and global structures? How has their history continued to pattern global relations between representatives of different cultures down to the present day? These are among the key questions that will be addressed in the two sessions of this postdoctoral seminar.

Since approximately the 1970s there have been intensive debates about these encounters that have sometimes (for example, during the Columbus Quincentennial) spilled over from the academic world into the public sphere. While interdisciplinary, the scholarly debates have been rather cohesive, focusing on concrete historical topics such as the conquest of the Americas and exploration of Oceania as well as concepts like globalization and transnationalism. History and anthropology are the core disciplines for the proposed seminar’s readings and topics, but they will extend to other disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. The scholarly discourse surrounding cultural encounters has from the beginning been interdisciplinary; reflecting this, the choice of topics and participants will further conversation across fields. In addition the topic lends itself to transatlantic and wider discussion since scholars from around the world have made contributions to the literature. Even though English-language readings will predominate, participants will be encouraged to explore, within the limits of their linguistic capacity, scholarship in other languages. A mutual enrichment will take place as participants confront a wide range of disciplinary approaches to a shared set of problems.


Harry LIEBERSOHN, Professor of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Jürgen OSTERHAMMEL, Professor of History, University of Constance


The SIAS Summer Institutes offer an unusual opportunity to enter into a transatlantic discussion with a group of scholars near the beginning of their careers, a discussion spanning an entire year and including two consecutive two-week seminars in stimulating surroundings, one in Europe, the other in the US. The Summer Institute for the first year, 2013, will introduce participants to one week of macro- and one week of micro-topics. The chronological span will be the period 1750–1940, with inevitable glances backward to the early modern period and forward to the present. Week One of the 2013 seminar is organized around macro-subjects, including debates over the transition from the Enlightenment to the era of high imperialism, the periodization of the nineteenth century, and modernization schemas. Week Two is organized around two groups of topics: the movement and collision of peoples (including sites of labor and migration across social boundaries and extra-European religious and “civilizing” missions); and cultural encounters in the arts (visual, material and musical). Throughout the two weeks, outside guests will be invited to discuss their writings on the themes of the 2013 Institute.

Participants will be asked to come to the 2014 Institute with an original research paper on a topic of their choice; providing background readings beforehand, they will lead a critical discussion of their draft at a seminar meeting. The goal of the second session will be the completion of an essay that is ready for publication, either as a journal article or as part of a larger monograph. The 2014 session will conclude with two days of panels on cultural encounters in multiple disciplinary perspectives. Outside guests will be invited to take part in the concluding discussions.


We welcome applicants from all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including history, anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, art history, musicology, history of science, literary studies, and regional studies. Applicants should be in the final stages of completing their Ph.D. or have received their Ph.D. in 2008 or later. They should have an institutional affiliation in the US or in Europe.