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How does comparison change contact between cultures?

Published on 4. Oktober 2018, 12:28 h
Conference of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1288 ‘Practices of Comparing’

When cultures meet, situations of contact are often overwhelming. How do people order the unknown cultural phenomena they encounter? Researchers at Bielefeld University assume that comparisons with the familiar play an important role in this process. They are verifying this assumption by looking at the history of European Expansion and colonization, and they will be discussing this question with international researchers at the conference ‘Contact – Conquest – Colonization: Practices of Comparing between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, from Antiquity to the Present.’ The conference will be held from the 11th to the 13th of October at Bielefeld University and is being organized by the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1288 ‘Practices of Comparing’.    


Several of the projects in the SFB are studying European, American, and Asiatic cultural contacts, attempted conquests, and colonization. These areas have proven to be particularly relevant for research on practices of comparing during the first phase of the SFB. Throughout the time of Expansion, when Europeans first confronted Asian, African, and American cultures, they often (but not only) drew on knowledge of first contact situations in Ancient Greece. Comparisons with this existing body of knowledge made it possible to frame new experiences in the first place. Hence, at the macro-level, the question guiding the researchers is, what role comparing played in processes of  larger-scale historical change?

‘On the one hand, we have been able to gain internationally highly renowned, advanced researchers for our conference. On the other hand, I am delighted to see that we have succeeded in attracting a number of outstanding young researchers with this topic,’ says Assistant Professor Eleonora Rohland, one of the conference organizers and head of a project in the SFB. ‘The breadth of fields being studied at the conference ranges from Jesuits in the early modern period who compared the concepts of masculinity in Europe and China to practices of comparing in the context of ‘Blackness’ during the Harlem Renaissance between 1920 and 1930 in the USA.’
The evening lectures at the conference will be held by Professor Dr Peter C. Mancall (University of Southern California, Dornsife, USA), Professor  Dr Demetrius Eudell (Wesleyan University, USA), and Professor Dr Alexander Honold (University of Basel, Switzerland). The conference language is English. The conference will be held at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF), Bielefeld. The address is Methoden 1, 33615 Bielefeld.

In the SFB, 62 researchers in the fields of history, literary studies, philosophy, art history, political science, and law at Bielefeld University are engaging in systematic work on how practices of comparing order and change the world. The SFB ‘Practices of Comparing’ was launched in January 2017 for an initial period of four years with grants amounting to approximately 10 million Euros. Collaborative Research Centres are long-term research centres at universities in which academics work together on a multi-disciplinary research programme – for up to twelve years. They are financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Journalists will have two opportunities to interview the organizers of the conference, Assistant Professor Dr Eleonora Rohland, Dr Christina Brauner, Professor Dr Angelika Epple, Professor Dr Antje Flüchter, and Professor Dr Kirsten Kramer, and ask questions about the conference and its topics: on the 11th of October at 15:30 and on the 12th of October at 11:00.

Further information:
•    The CCC conference website (in English): www.uni-bielefeld.de/sfb1288/ccc.html
•    The detailed programme of the opening conference (in English): www.uni-bielefeld.de/sfb1288/documents/ccc-programme.pdf
•    The website of the Collaborative Research Centre: www.uni-bielefeld.de/sfb1288

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