TransArea Studies: investigating early globalization hubs

Ancient cultures relied on far-reaching trade networks and systems for cultural and political exchange. The silk road network linking China and the Mediterranean is just one of many examples of ancient transregional connections. Other manifestations of early inter-regional dynamics include the establishment of Greek and Phoenician colonial cities, the Mediterranean Sea trade network, and the many migration phenomena culminating in the so-called Migration Period. Also worthy of mention are the distribution and expansion of technological and social innovations and of basic cultural techniques such the domestication of plants and animals as well as the appropriation and dissemination of writing and number systems.

The fact that the centers of these ancient networks and systems of government were anything but fixed means that our perspectives in investigating them must change, too. This required fluidity of perspectives transforms and dissolves Eurocentric world views and concepts. Classical studies must therefore always involve transregional perspectives, even when focusing on individual regions. The work of the German Archeological Institute (DAI) has a long tradition of transregionalism. With the generally increased interest in complex global and transregional research these perspectives have gained in intensity.

In its "Recommendations for Area Studies in Universities and Other Research Institutions" (2006), the German Council of Sciences and Humanities stated: "The globalization process on the one hand and the related increase in emphasis on cultural and regional identities on the other have intensified interest in region-specific expertise. As the sciences and humanities, too, are taking cultural dimension more strongly into account, investigations of cultural spheres and the interrelations between them have become more prominent." From the perspective of Archeology and Classical Studies, Area Studies are therefore not the exclusive domain of historical, sociological, or ethnological investigations of the modern world.

Focus areas of DAI research

DAI is organized in academic units, typically dedicated to geographic regions and the respective disciplinary specializations. A side effect of this structure is that it allows only a fragmented view on the relationships between geographically different ancient cultures, making it harder to recognize transregional connections. DAI's global archaeological perspective offers a chance to analyze and describe synchronous and asynchronous developments and, thus, the varying centers of globalization in the Classical world. DAI is building digital cultural archives comprising an invaluable wealth of research data. Along with new technology tools that allow landscape archeologists to investigate wide areas, these archives open the way to entirely new approaches in the study of spatial connections. Current developments in globalization also have significant impact on the advancement of such overarching spatial perspectives. As a member of the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien, DAI is actively engaged in the discourse on transregional archeology, continuing this engaging discussion within the Institute.

The potential of a transregional network integrating the different focus areas of the Institute were discussed at DAI as early as 2009. Initially, the discussion centered on Saharan Africa. The approach therefore informs the investigations of the new research cluster 6, "Connecting Cultures". Our aim is to understand transregional phenomena in ancient cultures. Another objective is to analyze the continuing impact of ancient spatial/geographical relations, or rather, modern concepts of historical cultural spaces and the ancient global world. Our modern world with all its interregional exchange processes, interactions, and dependencies cannot be fully understood without a consideration of these ancient interconnections. We therefore need to look carefully at the history of cultural constructs, identity attributions, migration processes, and basal environment changes.

The joint approaches of DAI currently focus on three regions that are particularly subject to change, namely Africa, the Indian Ocean, and Central Asia. The projects will investigate social and cultural dynamics in and between regions and the varying centers of globalization in ancient worlds.  

Das Deutsche Archäologische Institut hat mit den TransArea Studies seit 2014 neben den Forschungsclustern ein zweites Vernetzungsformat etabliert. Im September 2014 trafen sich 30 auf dem...   Read article »