“In God’s name I enter”

Amelia Hutchinson (University of Cambridge) on Managing the Body and the Environment in Early Modern Mining

Early modern mining was precarious. It involved deep, tacit knowledge about how the environment functioned, and how bodies functioned in such environments. This project explored how those who worked in German mines sought to understand, protect, and regulate their bodies and the environment. This blog takes the example of an 18th century pickaxe to show how objects held multiple meanings, and connected body, landscape, and matter.

The fruits of Labour

The Landeskrone mine, located at Wilnsdorf in the Siegerland, is a complex system of winding tunnels. In places, bacterial stalactites hang overhead, and iron deposits line the walls in bright orange. The relatively sharp changes in height require careful attention, and, of course, the use of protective headwear. The history of the mine is just as amalgamated as it’s tunnels. While recent archaeological findings date the beginning of the Ratzenscheid to the Middle Ages (Zeiler et al, 2018) modern visitors to the Landeskrone pit are also confronted by its more recent past of brickwork and industrial technology.

The Landeskrone mine is one of many that were operational during the early modern period and was depicted by Jeremias Beier in 1607. The striking oil painting measures a substantial 57 by 110 centimetres and can be found in the collection of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.

Landeskrone Mine, Oilpainting by Jeremias Beier, 1607. Source: Deutsches Bergbau-Musem Bochum.

The painting can be ‘read’ from left to right. The viewer is guided through the schema by a series of figures and three allegorical trees which populate the foreground. The far left of the composition begins with the mine complex in the background, with several shaft entrances visible on the hillside. Out of one, a miner can be seen wheeling a cart full of ore. The tree in the foreground, planted directly before the mine complex, is relatively sparse, except for the ornate crown perched on the trunk near the top. It is the only one of the three trees where the bare branches and roots are visible. Penetrating the landscape, the roots sit above the surface like a cross-section; the subterranean made visible above ground. A miner is depicted to the right of the tree wearing traditional miner’s dress. In his right hand, he holds a divining rod, in his left, a lump of ore which he offers up to the tree.

The painting depicts productivity and process: the miner extracts his ore, the artisan is surrounded by his tools, the fruits of their labour are gathered, and eventually, the profit is collected and calculated. The progress of the ore, which gains value through each stage of this process, is mirrored by the trees which grow ever more fruitful at each juncture. Through a combination of allegory and naturalistic imagery, the productive process of mining becomes entangled with the surrounding landscape and the bodies of those involved in its many stages.

Pathway to the underworld

In October 2023, I spent a month working at the DBM, looking at their collections dating from 1650-1800. The museum’s self-professed aim is to ‘spread the knowledge and experience of mining’, with a significant emphasis on public engagement. This aim is reflected in their variety of tours available of the exhibitions, as well as their events and lecture programme.

With a large emphasis on classical, industrial, and post-industrial mining, my work formed part of a larger impetus within the museum’s research department to consider mining in the early modern period, and how – by considering early modern mining practices – we can reflect on our use of resources today. As such, my project used sources on early modern mining to reflect on the historical roots of environmental and climatic trauma, and the long history of human engagement with and concern for the productive landscape. It focused on how the human actors involved in the mining process (from those who worked with a quill (Bergschreiber), to overseers (Bergmeister), to officials, (Bergrat), to workers (Bergmann)) sought to protect the bodies of miners, and the mined landscape.

The mine was a place of precarity. The shaft was a liminal space, bridging the gap between the underworld and the Earth’s surface, a passageway through which man could travel between them. Though created by God, conceptualisations of what took place below the Earth’s surface often centred around notions of hell, fire, and the heat of production. At the same time, the bowels of the Earth were a place of fertility and great riches, waiting to be discovered. As such, the mine was positioned, literally and conceptually, between two worlds. This instability – of knowledge, of environment, and the minerals to be mined – resulted in various strategies to create stability.

Religion as the miner’s protector

One theme which stood out amongst the printed texts, manuscripts, images, and objects in the DBM was the centrality of religion. A fascinating example can be seen in the form of an eighteenth century pickaxe, dating from 1715. The ivory handle is divided into eight segments, with differing designed on each side, including four inscriptions: 

In God’s name I enter, Jesus shall be my guiding light.

I hope for God [‘s grace] and happiness in every moment.

We pray for fortune and blessings, that God will fill us with joy.

We carry mallets and iron in our hands, this shall be our sustenance.

The decorated pickaxe from the 18th century, Source: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.

The axe is an example of the potency of material objects. Imbued with active, tangible power, the tool was not only a tactile reminder of prayer, but itself channelled protection towards the body of its owner/user. Indeed, the axe displays clear signs of use, with damage along the blade. Furthermore, the imagery on the handle reveals marked wear in the positions in which the handle would likely have been grasped (the uppermost and lowermost segments). The variety of images on the handle are significant, demonstrating not only the themes at the forefront of mining consciousness, but that these things were connected: of Christ on the cross, of miners at work, of mining technology and landscapes.

God, the original miner, creator of everything on Earth and within it, was understood to have placed such riches there for human intercession; mining therefore was his work that was being carried out. Thus, God also played the ultimate role in protecting the body of the miner as workers navigated the unfamiliar, changing landscape. Crucially, this landscape, though dangerous, was not one being destroyed or plundered, but rather discovered. As such, it was the role of God, and of the miner, to understand and care for it, just as with the corporeal body.

The collections of the DBM clearly evidence such a relationship, exhibiting how the nexus of ‘body’, ‘landscape’ and ‘production’ was articulated, and offer a fruitful space for further study.


Amelia Hutchinson (University of Cambridge) received the Leibniz-Cambridge Museum & Collection Fellowship in 2023 to visit the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.


Header picture: Entrance to the Landeskrone mine close to Wilden in 2009. Wikimedia Commons.

Unwanted Indians in Nazi Germany

Ole Birk Laursen (Lund University) on files from the archive of the Berlin Foreign Office that reveal the arrests of Indian exiles in early 1930s Germany

At a time when fascism is on the rise across India, there is an urgent need to reflect upon past histories of Indian anti-fascism and, simultaneously, the repression of Indian anti-colonialists in exile. 1 Doing so also provokes a reconsideration of the politics and value of representing the past, of which struggles for freedom are valued today, and a reassessment of the final years of Weimar Berlin as a fertile space for Indian anti-colonialism.

Savage” assaults and “medieval” methods

In early December 1931, Adolf Hitler declared that British rule in India was in the interest of both Britain and Germany. Incensed by this statement and objecting to the general treatment of Indians in Germany lately, the veteran Indian nationalist Chempakaraman Pillai wrote to Hitler on 10 December 1931 and asked how he could deny the freedom of other countries such as India while claiming freedom for Germany. 2 Two weeks later, Hitler’s private secretary replied that Hitler believed that, if the British left India, Bolshevism would soon spread. Indeed, British rule in India was in the interest of the entire civilised world. Pillai’s complaints fell on deaf ears. 3.

By early 1933, Hitler’s resentment for the Indians in Germany became even more evident. On the eve of the Reichstag Fire in late February 1933, SA troops entered the Indian journalist A.C.N. Nambiar’s home at Kaiserplatz 17 and arrested him on the pretext of being a member of the German Communist Party (KPD). That same night, the SA arrested Jaya Surya Naidu, a medical student at the Charité, and brought him to the police station alongside Nambiar.

Nambiar later recalled how: ‘About seven in the evening, I was reading the afternoon papers, six Stormtroopers entered my flat. With loaded revolvers raised to my face and the threat of being shot immediately in the event of any resistance, they asked me to follow to a car that waited outside’. Nambiar was not presented with a search warrant, an arrest warrant, or a list of belongings removed, but the Stormtroopers took his typewriter and bundles of papers from his apartment. At the SA headquarters, Nambiar was ‘savagely assaulted by two Stormtroopers with leather whips’, questioned without any rights by a local SA leader, had his passport taken away, and was threatened to be killed. Early the next morning, he was brought to the police station by Alexanderplatz, where he was interrogated again and threatened with the gallows before being led, first, to a common cell and then, later, to a solitary cell. 4

Nambiar’s Story of His Arrest in Berlin”, in: The Bombay Chronicle, 8th May 1933, p. 7.

Although Naidu associated with various anarchists and communists in Berlin, he largely refrained from serious political activities. 5 Nevertheless, Naidu was also beaten by a dozen Stormtroopers and brought to the Alexanderplatz police station for questioning. As Naidu recalled: ‘I opened the door of my flat in response to a ring and was confronted by a dozen uniformed Nazi storm troopers, who levelled revolvers at me and demanded admission. I asked them what they wanted, but without more ado they told me to shut up, struck me on the head with the butts of their revolvers, and began ransacking my room’.

Taking him to the police station, Naidu recounted, ‘they pushed me down five flights of stairs, whipping and beating me at the time with belts and straps until my back and neck were bleeding and bruised’. 6 Through the intervention of Eva Geissler, Nambiar’s girlfriend and secretary at the Indian Information Bureau, Naidu was transferred to Spandau Prison and released after five days, his arrest had been a ‘misunderstanding’. Naidu returned to India in the summer of 1934. 7

For Nambiar, however, the case was much more serious. Geissler alerted the British authorities to the arrests, where Nambiar’s case was raised in the British Parliament, and throughout the next three weeks the British and the German authorities negotiated his release. In the end, the SA branded Nambiar a ‘communist’, which he was not, but had to release him on 26 March 1933 without any charges brought against him on condition that he left Germany. Nambiar’s expulsion was eventually retracted, but by then he had left for Prague. 8

The Band of Colonialism and Fascism

Although somewhat embarrassed by the wrongful arrests of Nambiar and Naidu, the Nazis still persecuted Indians in Germany. On 23 April 1933, upon his return to Germany from Italy, Saumyendranath Tagore was arrested in Munich, ostensibly for plotting to assassinate Hitler. Tagore was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime and had ties to communists, but the accusations against him were false. During his imprisonment, Tagore witnessed the brutality of the Nazi regime against political prisoners: ‘The treatment of prisoners that I witnessed in those four and a half days was medieval in its brutality. Some 23 of us, belonging to the “Left” parties, mostly Communists, were locked up in a dark ventilated room’. 9

Though Tagore avoided severe beatings, he was ‘threatened repeatedly by groups of Stormtroopers to be shot’ and later recounted how ‘every day, batches of Hitlerites were coming to see the man who wanted to kill Hitler’. 10 After his release, Tagore escaped to Paris and issued a statement on the conditions in Germany: ‘The entire civilised world has condemned, and is still condemning unanimously, the excesses that are being perpetrated in Fascist Germany today. Ill-treatment of the Jews, Socialists, Pacifists, and Communist prisoners in the prisons, expelling from Germany’s cultural life world famous personalities like Thomas Mann, Kathe Kollwitz, Jacob Wassermann, and others, burning of thousands and thousands of books which are against German nationalism and militarism, all these and many other excesses are daily taking place in Hitler’s Germany today’. 11

Protest meeting against the arrest of Gandhi, 6 May 1930, Alexander von Humboldt-Haus, Fasanenstraße, Berlin. Standing is Saumyendranath Tagore and sitting to the far right is Jaya Surya Naidu. Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-09732. Wikimedia Commons.

Nambiar, Naidu, and Tagore were among the most prominent Indians to be arrested and expelled in 1933. However, by the end of the year, five more Indians had been arrested or expelled from Germany: M. A. Faruqui, an Indian-Muslim communist; Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar, an Indian communist student in Marburg; Brajesh Singh, a member of the Communist Party of India; Nalini Gupta, a communist and proprietor of the restaurant and boarding house ‘Hindustan House’; and Monindra Kumar Sen, a resident at ‘Hindustan House’. 12

The arrests and expulsions of Indian anti-colonialists – of Indian anti-fascists – from Nazi Germany in 1933 provide a cautionary tale of the dangers of fascism. At the same time, it reminds us that the past can be a source for political mobilisation in the present, that struggles against colonialism and fascism were allied in the past.


Ole Birk Laursen (Lund University) recieved the Leibniz-Fellowship “Value of the Past” in 2023 to visit the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) Berlin.

Header picture: The Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Street view of the police headquarters, the so called “Red Fortress”, ca. 1930. Foto: unknown fotografer, Sammlung Stadtmuseum Berlin SM 2016-9579,3. Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Arundhati Roy, Azadi: Fascism, Fiction, and Freedom in the Time of the Virus (Haymarket Books, 2020[]
  2. Chempakaraman Pillai to Adolf Hitler, 10 December 1931, RZ 207/77415, Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts, Berlin (PA AA).[]
  3. Private Secretary to Adolf Hitler to Chempakaraman Pillai, 24 December 1931, RZ 207/77415, PAAA.[]
  4. A. C. N. Nambiar, ‘Nambiar’s Story of His Arrest in Berlin’, Bombay Chronicle (8 May 1933): 7.[]
  5. Politische Beziehungen Indiens zu Deutschland, RZ 207/77416, PA AA.[]
  6. ‘Attack on British Subject’, Belfast Telegraph (25 March 1933): 5.[]
  7. Gautam Pemmaraju, ‘The Dark Foreigner with the Great Dog: Jayasurya Naidu in Germany, 1922–1934’, Nidan: International Journal for Indian Studies, 7:1 (July 2022): 115–31.[]
  8. Politische Beziehungen Indiens zu Deutschland, RZ 207/77416, PAAA.[]
  9. Saumyendranath Tagore, ‘Nazi Violence in Germany’, Hindustan Times (1 June 1933), RZ 207/77416, PA AA.[]
  10. Tagore, ‘Nazi Violence in Germany’.[]
  11. Saumyendranath Tagore, ‘Fascist Excesses in Germany’, Advance (22 May 1933), RZ 207/77416, PA AA.[]
  12. ‘Indians in Germany: Cases of Expulsion’, Advance (1 November 1933), held in RZ 207/77416, PA AA.[]

Die Blicke zurück

Sebastian Willert (Leibniz-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur – Simon Dubnow) über das „Nostalgisieren“ von imperialen archäologischen Praktiken in Berlin und Istanbul in der Zwischenkriegszeit

Welchen Wert schrieben Museumsdirektoren in den 1920er Jahren der gerade verstrichenen imperialen Vergangenheit zu? Ausgestattet mit archäologischen Praktiken aus der Jahrhundertwende nahmen Repräsentanten der Königlichen Museen zu Berlin sowie des Istanbuler Müze-i Hümayun (Imperiale Museum) reaktionäre Positionen ein und nostalgisierten Museumspraktiken und Traditionen.

What value did museum directors in the 1920s ascribe to the imperial past that had just faded? Equipped with archaeological practices from the turn of the century, representatives of the Royal Museums in Berlin and Istanbul’s Müze-i Hümayun (Imperial Museum) adopted reactionary positions nostalgizing museum practices and traditions.


Noch kurz vor seinem Tod plante der Architekt Alfred Messel (1853–1909) die „Bebauung der Museumsinsel.“ Die Fertigstellung seiner Planungen erlebte er nicht, prägte aber, wie sein „Durchschnitt durch das Pergamonmuseum“ zeigt, die Idee der 1930 realisierten prominenten Ausstellung des Pergamonaltars im Berliner Zentrum. Als zentraler Repräsentationsraum der „Leistungen“ preußisch-deutscher Archäologie blieb das Museum bis in die 1920er Jahre unvollendet. Die Präsenz des Rohbaus erinnerte an die vom Monarchen Wilhelm II. (1859–1941) geförderte imperiale Archäologie.

Als deutsche Altertumswissenschaftler im November 1918 aus dem Osmanischen Reich nach Berlin zurückkehrten, wehten über der Berliner Museumsinsel die roten Fahnen der Revolution. Im selben Zeitraum kündeten italienische, französische und britische Flaggen im Istanbuler Stadtteil Pera (heute Beyoğlu) von der osmanischen Niederlage im Ersten Weltkrieg. Fünf Jahre später wurde Ankara die neue Hauptstadt der entstehenden türkischen Republik. Berlin war zu diesem Zeitpunkt bereits von der Weimarer Republik geprägt. Die Direktoren in den Staatlichen, vormals Königlichen, Museen zu Berlin wie dem Müze-i Hümayun in Istanbul blieben jedoch dieselben.

„Take a moment to think“

Die Phase des (geo-)politischen Umbruchs wirkte sich auf die Museumsarbeit in Berlin und Istanbul sowie die Beziehungen beider Institutionen und Staaten zueinander aus. Inmitten dieser Phase der Transformation hätte ich den historischen Figuren zu gerne die Fragen gestellt, die der Neurowissenschaftler Charan Ranganath als einleitende Worte in seiner aktuellen Publikation „Why We Remember“ heranzieht: „Take a moment to think about who you are right now. Think about your closest relationships, your job, your geographic location, your current life circumstances. What would you consider your most indelible life experiences – the ones that have made you who you are? What are your most deeply held beliefs? What choices, large and small, good and bad, have led you to this place, to this moment in time?” 1

Stellen wir uns Menschen vor, die in einer Gruppe über mögliche Antworten zu den von Ranganath gestellten Fragen diskutieren, würde rasch klar, dass individuelle Erfahrungen, Erlebnisse und Erinnerungen die Antworten prägen. Für die im Fokus stehenden Archäologen würde vermutlich der Zeitraum ihrer „erfolgreichsten“ Ausgrabungsprojekte im Zentrum ihrer Gedanken stehen, sicherlich aber auch der Umbruch zwischen Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkriegs 1914, Abbruch der deutsch-osmanischen Beziehungen mit Kriegsende und der Wiederaufnahme deutsch-türkischer Relationen 1923/24. Reminiszenzen an die Vergangenheit prägten die Korrespondenzen deutsch-türkischer Museumsvertreter. Als ein Akt der Erinnerung würde, so Ranganath, eine Diskussion um die prägendsten Erinnerungen zu einem „Update“ des Vergangenen führen, das unsere Gegenwart prägt. Indem wir uns durch solche und ähnliche Praktiken unsere Erinnerungen ins Gedächtnis rufen, konstituieren wir, so der Neurowissenschaftler, unsere Identität. Doch ist die Erinnerung nicht in Stein gemeißelt, wie Ranganath festhält: „Rather than being photo-accurate repositories of past experience, Ranganath argues, our memories function more like active interpreters, working to help us navigate the present and future. The implication is that who we are, and the memories we draw on to determine that, are far less fixed than you might think. ‚Our identities,‘ Ranganath says, ‚are built on shifting sand.‘“

Das Hauptgebäude des Müze-i Hümayun (Imperiales Museum) in Istanbul, heute das Archäologische Museum, wurde 1891 eröffnet. Die Giebelinschrift lautet „Asar-ı Atika Müzesi“ (Antikenmuseum). Foto: unbekannt, ohne Jahr. Quelle: Wikimedia Commons, Link.

Für archäologische Museen scheint die Analyse Ranganaths besonders herausfordernd: Bewahren sie nicht nur die materiellen, in Stein gemeißelten Relikte vergangener Zivilisationen, sondern gelten sie doch mitunter als ein Raum der Identitätsstiftung und –findung, der eher behäbig auf Veränderungen reagiert. Sie halten die eine in weit zurückliegende Zeiten greifende Erinnerung aufrecht und bilden – nach 1918/23 – Repräsentationsorte der gerade verloschenen imperialen Vergangenheit. Ihre Einrichtung, gehen wir mit Michel Foucault, folgte dem Ideal, „das allgemeine Archiv der Kultur“ 2 zu konstruieren. Während des späten 19. und beginnenden 20. Jahrhunderts sammelten Museen „Dinge bis ins Unendliche“ und versuchten, „die Zeit anzuhalten oder sie vielmehr bis ins Unendliche in einem besonderen Raum zu deponieren.” Die Institutionen versuchten folglich, „einen Raum aller Zeiten zu schaffen, als könnte dieser Raum selbst endgültig außerhalb der Zeit stehen […].” 3

Was aber, wenn sich um das Museum herum das politische System und damit die Vorgaben an die inhaltliche Ausrichtung und die Museumspraktiken verändert? Wie prägend wirkt die Erinnerung an das gerade Vergangene? Setzten sich Denkstile unter den Museumsdirektoren durch, die die unmittelbare und nun „verlorenen gegangene“ Vergangenheit idealisierten – und bestimmte ein solcher nostalgische Blick ihre Tätigkeit unter republikanischen Institutionen? Bildeten sie, um mit Zygmunt Baumann zu sprechen, „Retrotopien“ heraus, die von der Sehnsucht nach der imperialen Vergangenheit dominiert waren?

Tempora Verti

Während meines Forschungsaufenthalts im Rahmen des vom Leibniz-Forschungsverbund „Wert der Vergangenheit“ finanzierten Fellowships am Leibniz Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam stellte ich mir diese Fragen bezogen auf eine spezifische Gruppe von historischen Akteuren: der Museumsdirektoren archäologischer Museen in Deutschland und der Türkei der 1920er und beginnenden 1930er Jahre.

Bis 1918/23 hatten führende Archäologen wie Theodor Wiegand (1864–1936), Georg Karo (1872–1963) oder Halil Edhem (1861–1938) und Aziz Ogan (1888–1956) versucht, durch ihren persönlichen Beitrag die archäologischen Sammlungen ihrer Institutionen – der Königlichen Museen zu Berlin einerseits, des Müze-i Hümayun andererseits – zu erweitern. Das Osmanische Reich stellte den Ressourcenraum für die musealen Sammlungen dar. Die Aneignungen erfolgten über Ausgrabungskampagnen, Fundteilungen, Ankäufe im Antikenhandel oder – im Falle preußisch-deutscher archäologischer Unternehmungen – durch verdeckte Ausfuhren vorbei am osmanischen Antikengesetz.

Blick in die von deutschen Archäologen geleiteten Ausgrabungen von Sam’al (Zincirli Höyük), auch: Sendschirli (in der heutigen Türkei) im 19. Jahrhundert. Foto: unbekannt, ohne Jahr. Quelle: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum.

Das Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs beendete diese imperialen Praktiken des Sammelns abrupt. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt hatten die Museumsvertreter bereits mehrere Jahre, wenn nicht Jahrzehnte für ihre Institutionen gearbeitet. Diese Erfahrungen dürften, um nochmals Ranganath heranzuziehen, also für die (professionelle) Identität der im Fokus stehenden Akteure identitätskonstituierend gewesen sein. Zwischen 1918 und 1923 veränderte sich die politische Situation sowohl in Berlin als auch Istanbul dramatisch, die Imperien wurden zu Republiken; territoriale Verluste, Kontinuitäten von Gewalt und Fluchtbewegungen prägten die Zeitläufte. Und auch die Ausrichtung der Institution des Museums in Berlin wie Istanbul stand zur Diskussion. Eine Wiederaufnahme althergebrachter Sammlungstätigkeit schien unrealistisch.

Die Vergangenheit erben

Bereits in die Museen translozierte Objekte verharrten als materielle Relikte vergangener Zivilisationen, doch auch als Symbole einer gerade vergangenen imperialen Archäologie. Obgleich der Kunstkritiker Karl Scheffler (1869–1951) die Planungen zum Pergamonmuseum als im Zeichen „Wilhelminischer Großmannssucht“ 4 diskreditierte, büßten archäologische Objekte ihren Wert als Repräsentationen der „Kultur“ nicht ein: Während sich die politischen und geographischen Rahmenbedingungen transformierten, visualisierten und konstituierten die Ausstellungen prestigeträchtiger Objekte die kulturelle Bedeutung einer Stadt oder eines Staats. Gleichzeitig gelang es verschiedenen Museumsakteuren, ihre Positionen in einer Zeit der geopolitischen Transformation im südöstlichen Europa und im Nahen Osten im Kontext des Zerfalls der Kontinentalreiche und der mehrfachen Regimewechsel zu manifestieren.

Museumsbesucher:innen besichtigen 1933 das spätrömische Tor von Milet (bei Izmir in der heutigen Türkei), das Theodor Wiegand 1905 nach Berlin transportieren ließ, im Pergamonmuseum. Foto: Georg Pahl, November 1933. Quelle: Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia Commons, Link.

Hier stellte sich mir die Frage, inwiefern die Museumsakteure ihre archäologischen Sammlungen und ihre bilateralen Beziehungen einer neuen Wertung unterzogen. Näherten sich die ehemaligen Rivalen an, indem sie ihre vergangenen Beziehungen heroisierten und nostalgisierten? Zogen sie bestimmte Objekte heran, um Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft zu ordnen und zu strukturieren? Welche Orientierungen boten die Ausstellungen im Kontext sich transformierender geopolitischer Rahmenbedingungen? Nahmen die Sammlungen spezifisch lokale, regionale oder globale Diskurse der Erinnerung und des Gedächtnisses ein?

Im Zentrum meines Interesses standen hierbei die Sammlungen Berlins und Istanbuls. An beiden Orten entwickelte sich eine Sehnsucht nach einer Vergangenheit, die auch eine spezifische Vorstellung von der Zukunft einschloss. Wer mehr über die diesen Entwicklungen zugrunde liegenden Nostaligisierungsprozesse in deutschen und türkischen archäologischen Museen, die Erscheinungsformen der Sehnsucht nach einer (imaginierten) Vergangenheit und Zukunft in Korrespondenzen, Publikationen und Musealisierungsprozessen zwischen den Akteuren erfahren möchte, ist eingeladen, meinen Beitrag „The Archaeology of the Imperial Past: ‘Nostalgizing’ in the German and Turkish Museums of the Interwar Period” zu lesen.


Dr. des. Sebastian Willert (Leibniz-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur – Simon Dubnow) war 2022 Stipendiat des Leibniz-Fellowships “Wert der Vergangenheit” und besuchte in diesem Rahmen das Leibniz-Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam.


Verwendete Literatur

Zygmunt Baumann, Retrotopia, Frankfurt am Main 2018.

Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, New York 2001.

Michel Foucault, Die Heterotopien. Der utopische Körper. Zwei Radiovorträge, Frankfurt am Main 2019.

Charan Ranganath, Why We Remember, New York 2024.

Sebastian Willert, The Archaeology of the Imperial Past: “Nostalgizing” in the German and Turkish Museums of the Interwar Period, in: Acta Universitatis Carolinae. Studia Territorialia, Vol 23, No. 2 (2023), S. 11–41. doi: 10.14712/23363231.2023.14.

  1. Charan Ranganath, Why We Remember, New York 2024, S. 3.[]
  2. Michel Foucault, Die Heterotopien. Der utopische Körper. Zwei Radiovorträge, Frankfurt am Main 2019, 16.[]
  3. Ebd.[]
  4. Zit. Karl Scheffler nach Theodor Wiegand: Die Denkmäler in Syrien. In: Der Sammler. Wochenschrift für alte und neue Kunst, Vol. 1, Nr. 38 (Sonderheft: Anläßlich des 14. Tages für Denkmalpflege in Münster i. W., 21.–24. September 1921), 1921, S. 181–183, hier S. 181.[]

A Tea Bowl from Chu

Danijela Lugarić Vukas (University of Zagreb) on Oxana Timofeeva’s Book “How to Love a Homeland” and the Role of Autofictionality in the Age of War

At the beginning of his more than two-hour long interview with Tucker Carlson, Vladimir Putin began defending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with a thorough historical lecture about Russian history, focusing on events coming from the ninth century. Although Putin stated before his talk that he would offer a minute-long history of Russia, his lecture ended up lasting longer than thirty minutes. This is just one illustrative example of how, in today’s Russia, history and past events serve as a meticulous subject of violent politicization.

In his article “Presentism, Politicization of History, and the New Role of the Historian in Russia,” published in 2021, Ivan Kurilla writes about state-controlled historical policy in 21st century Russia, reminding that in the spring of 2014, a group of pro-Kremlin Duma deputies introduced the first “memorial law” in Russia. Moreover, than minister of culture Vladimir Medinskii repeatedly proclaimed that “useful myths” 1 are more important than facts, and that the only valid historical research is the one that acts according to the national interests of Russia.

As Nikita Petrov, in his article “The Soviet Past and the 1945 Victory Cult as Civil Religion in Contemporary Russia,” further emphasizes, “the past, complete with the notion of a sacral, all-powerful state, in particular, is making a strong comeback in Russia”. 2

In these circumstances, contemporary Russian literature (“soft memory” in Alexander Etkind’s understanding) often provides one of the major steps against political contraventions and infringements. Acts of rewriting the Russian past in literary works of authors such as Maria Stepanova, Sergey Lebedev, Liudmila Ulitskaya, or Polina Barskova (to name just a few), which are largely motivated by personal family (hi)stories and post-memorial imaginative investment from the position of displaced and marginalized individuals, are not only a way of reclaiming ownership of the nation’s past but also – by intervening in hegemonic cultural narratives – act as a kind of cultural ecology.

The Invention of Home

Traveling in personal memories, and creating narratives, becomes a way of getting under the skin of history.

Book cover “How to love a homeland” by Oxana Timofeeva. The English version was published in 2021.

In this context, autofictional writings which provide a platform to underrepresented feminist voices serve as particularly thought-provoking example of literary depictions of lived experience of displacement. Exiled philosopher Oxana Timofeeva returns, in her book “How to love a homeland” (“Rodina”), which was discussed at the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) in Berlin on February 8, 2024, to her childhood memories in order to establish a bottom-up link between the past and the present. By going back to three “small homelands” of her childhood, the small cities of Kozhevnikovo, Chu, and Surgut, Timofeeva emphasizes the process of becoming (rather than merely being) through her childhood recollections. Emotions triggered by such temporal and spatial travels (rather than by fixed events, as in Putin’s above-mentioned interview) underlines the subjective embodied experience of history, with autofictionality serving to further emphasize that the selfhood itself is always invented, created, fictionalized.

The village of Kozhevnikovo (close to Tomsk) in Russia in 2010. Wikimedia Commons.

From the standpoint of the autofictional narrator, prioritizing the spatialization of time (being) over the annihilation of space by time (becoming) becomes an impossibility task because the latter – during the war – would draw attention to the futureless perspective of one’s experience. The annihilation of space by time occurs when the narrator repeatedly accentuates that the location itself is not self-contained: the space (a homeland) becomes loaded with meaning only when the story, or a memory, is tied to it. For example, “A priori, the innate of the memory are considered trophies (like my tea bowl from Chu) that connect us to this place, whatever it may be” (p. 72).

The philosopher’s vulnerability, as expressed in this book, is not a flaw, but rather opens an alternative system of values, while ruptures are an opportunity for progression and new creation. Timofeeva’s book is telling us that a homeland is not something to be found but – rather – to invent. Moreover, texts like this, by maintaining that trauma and triumph are mutually exclusive, allow for a future perspective. Not only that taking off (deterritorialization) is a prerequisite for reterritorialization (attaching to the new place), but the latter is inherently more temporal than spatial endeavor because “true reterritorialization is the one in utopia – the utopia of the future, as opposed to the one of the past” (p. 76).

A healing journey?

Traveling back in time and through spaces of her former homeland(s) demonstrates that memory is constantly in motion, while the sense of fragmented, fragile reality mediated through memories evokes post-Soviet reality, making obvious that there is no dialogue between history and (individual, communicative) memory in post-Soviet Russia. Moreover, journeying shifts her story into a dynamic mode, establishing an intermediate, transgressive zone in which the narrator detaches from customary coordinates and routines, reinforced by hegemonic cultural narratives of triumph, glorious past, patriotism, and nationalism.

Moving from one space (Kozhevnikovo) to another (Surgut) and concluding the journey with philosophical conceptualization of what it means to possess and love a homeland has a healing effect for exiled intellectual because turning to memories establishes a space for a possible reconciliation:

“Entering a relationship of mutual negation with the homeland, emigration recreates it through itself in the new place, reestablishing its locus – such is the dialectics of exile. Homeland does not exist without its people, but it can move freely with them around the world. The coldness of our forests, the breadth of our steppes is always with us. Unpacking on new planets, just like now, we will continue to take out and put on a prominent spot our small Chu bowls from Earth” (p. 63).

Endless forests in the Yugansky nature reserve in the Surgut Region. Picture taken in 2012. Wikimedia Commons.

Taking roots

So, what kind of homeland could be achieved for displaced and marginalized intellectuals during wartime? If it would be possible to create one homeland from three small Timofeeva’s homelands, the ideal homeland would not be a state – because borders are always an instrument of oppression –, nor would it be an anthropocentric world – because it would have to be replaced by the biocentric.

Hence, “To love means not merely to (re)territorialize like an animal but also to take root like a plant. It does not have to be our own root; we can create an artistic alliance of the animal and the vegetative and plant flowers all over the land that we love with all our soul. Across all states’ borders tying us to a certain territory by protocol, the love for homeland must be free, so that every time, coming back to a new, unprecedented place, every one of us can say: I am from here” (pp. 86-87).

By designing this specific kind of stateless citizenship, Timofeeva makes obvious that, in the age of war and displacement, gestures that transgress forbiddances of return are political actions through which one re-establish one’s sense of human agency. 


Danijela Lugarić Vukas (University of Zagreb) recieved the Leibniz-Fellowship “Value of the Past” in 2023 to visit the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL).

Header picture: The Kazakh-Kyrgyz border in the Jambyl Region of Kazakhstan, close to Chu, in 2023. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Kurilla, Ivan. 2021. “Presentism, Politicization of History, and the New Role of the Historian in Russia”. In: Weiss-Wendt, Anton; Adler, Nanci (eds.) The Future of the Soviet Past. The Politics of History in Putin’s Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. P. 37.[]
  2. Petrov, Nikita. 2021. “The Soviet Past and the 1945 Victory Cult as Civil Religion in Contemporary Russia”. In: Weiss-Wendt, Anton; Adler, Nanci (eds.) The Future of the Soviet Past. The Politics of History in Putin’s Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. P. 71.[]

Modelling historical spatial data

Wieslawa Duży (Polish Academy of Sciences) on her research project and developing historical geoinformation

The spatial history of Poland is as fascinating to discover as difficult to explain and communicate. Territorial and state-like organisation started in Polish territory around the 10th century. From the second half of the 16th century, Poland (named Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów, which is usually translated as Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, and means directly “Commonwealth of Both Nations”, however “nation” does not have modern meaning here) was a huge state, consisted of two enormous state-level political and administrative bodies: the Great Duchy of Lithuania and the so-called Polish Crown. It may resemble to the reader the vastness of the Chinese Empire, however, the comparison is not legitimate as my main focus here is not the vastness of territory but its divisions and organisation.

Territory, cartography, comparability of historical administrative divisions in Poland

Therefore, let me mention that in an early modern era and until the end of the 18th century there was not one coherent legal system on a state level of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. The multitude of legal orders existed in fact on every possible level of administration and local power. Private towns were organised according to their particular legal acts; royal ownership might face different administrative regulations than estates owned by nobility or Roman-catholic clergy. This kaleidoscope of options covered not only administrative regulations but also political power. There were regions with various statuses: independent cities with their representation in the parliament, regions ruled independently by catholic bishops, being simultaneously senators in the higher chamber of the parliament. Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian brought indeed significant alterations.

The result was an introduction into Polish territory of three new political bodies and their administrative systems. The 19th century was a period in history without a Polish state, however the situation was not stable over the whole century and changes cover various parts of a former state. Not until 1918 could any Polish political power acted nor organise freely, without a control from one of three former neighbours of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania.

Even still in the early 20’s of the 20th century the fate of not every piece of land had been decided. There are two consequences of this for my considerations: 1) changing administrative units and legal orders had to be conveyed somehow among each other to provide an existence and maintenance of some legal power over time, 2) working on spatial history of Polish territories demands at least some level of curated harmonisation of changing administrative divisions to provide a long timeframe for analysis. In my approach administrative units are always connected to the physical area under governance and administration of a particular office. I also understand political power as a power of governance and management over a particular territory. Therefore, I am not discussing the very interesting topic of how dividing territory influenced human everyday life.

Understanding without explanation?

My attempts at modelling include various theoretical approaches. These include hermeneutic approaches, assemblage theory, grounded theory, as well as boundary object concepts. Investigating the latter brought me to my interest in the “Digitale Kartenwerkstatt Altes Reich” conducted by colleagues from a consortium of institutes and universities from Germany, Netherlands, and France.

The boundary object may be an entity which can be used by various parties, allowing them to understand successfully despite various meanings given to discussed issues. This feature makes it useful in modelling objects which are not easy or impossible to define, depict, and explain strictly and sharply due to various reasons, including lack of historical sources. Boundary objects come from information science. This is a concept designed or invented to enhance the communication process and explain how procedure, standards, or technologies work (or fail to work) by including perspectives of all actors engaged in the process. It was, therefore, a sort of answer to the technocratic approach of “as long as you act according to specific standards, the success is expected”.

Overlapping political and administrative systems in Warmia (Ermland) from Mediaeval Times till the late 18th century. Source & Copyright: W. Duży.

I am working on several case studies, allowing me to discuss various scenarios of managing the territory. Among others, there is a territory of Warmia (Ger. Ermland) as an example of the power of continuity over change, as the hierarchy of power and administrative divisions was as complex as stable there (Szorc 1990). Second case study in the area of Torun over centuries as the example of the power of urban domination (Duży 2018). Third case study is the area of Bielsko and Biała, discussed as an example of the power of merging. These two towns existed as separate entities for almost their whole history, however, many activities were undertaken in the area despite the border in between (Kisiel 2018). Fourth case study is Spisz (Ger. Zips) as an example of the power of inertia in administrative and political decision making, resulting in an ambiguity of land ownership lasting for several centuries (Historia Scepussi 2010).

Scheme of possible relation among various levels of administrative units and political powers. Source & Copyright: W. Duży.

These case studies are chosen intentionally to present the various visions, different understanding, and a process of negotiating a border by various actors – in this respect the boundary object approach helps develop understanding and – hopefully – explanation to reduce the ambiguity of a border in history, helps to visualise administrative divisions from the past, and to harmonise them with modern spatial datasets. Therefore, the expected objectives of my research may be relevant not only to Central Europe, as we know examples from other parts of the world worth to discuss and consider with a similar approach (Sahlins 1989).

Harmonisation and modelling historic administrative units and political bodies

I am interested in developing research on modelling borders and administrative divisions changing over time. This scope of my research is a consequence of two projects I participated in: “Historical Atlas of Poland in the 2nd Half of the 16th Century” focusing on reconstructing settlement network, and “Ontological foundations for building historical geoinformation systems” focusing on building formal domain ontology of settlements types and administrative units. I also elaborate my methodological considerations from the project “People, Places, and Events. Innovative Spatial Humanities Research to support Interpretation and Explanation”.

I try to situate my considerations within spatial history. This is why I refer to the broad range of research topics represented i.e. by Humphrey Southall, Anne K. Knowles, Ian Gregory, Michael Heffernan, Eva Semotanova. This approach is the most relevant for my considerations, as I am interested in modelling historical spatial data regarding administrative units and chances of their harmonisation with modern datasets.[i] As a historical spatial data I understand anything given, extracted, and acquired from historical sources, either written or illustrative, including cartographic sources, and allowing researchers to investigate changes in settlement network and administrative divisions in the past.


Wieslawa Duży (Polish Academy of Sciences) recieved the Leibniz-Fellowship “Value of the Past” in 2023 to visit the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG) in Mainz. She is part of the first ever editing project of the map used here as header that will be published by the end of 2024. For the work in progress see: https://atlas.ihpan.edu.pl/chrzanows


[i] It needs to be mentioned here that there is advanced research in this field conducted within the DARIAH.Lab project: https://wikihum.lab.dariah.pl/index.php?title=Main_Page_En.


Title picture: First page of the Karta dawnéj Polski z przyległémi okolicami krajów sąsiednich (“Map of former Poland with neighboring countries”) by Wojciech Chrzanowski et. al., 1859, full view: https://polona.pl/preview/8864800d-b602-44b8-a127-71f81f96c4b3.

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