TOPOI - The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations
And precisely this subject has brought together 200 researchers, professors and other staff members specializing in Antiquity: philosophers, geographers, archaeologists, historians, theologians, linguists, literary scholars and other researchers – at Humboldt-Universität, the Freie Universität Berlin and several non-university research institutions. They are all collaborating in a Cluster of Excellence entitled 'Topoi. The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations'.
Video: "TOPOI – Space – a broad subject"
How did the people adapt to their environment? How did they shape it? What is a border? How were spaces perceived and portrayed in Antiquity? How did they affect language? These are just a few of many aspects that are of interest to the Topoi researchers. The focus is on whether and how space, and knowledge of space, developed and changed as a function of each other, and how this knowledge affected the cultural development of ancient societies. The Cluster examines ideas of space among the Greeks and Romans, as well as peoples of the Near East, the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions from the sixth millennium BC until 500 AD. Antiquity is not only an exciting research field because there are hardly any studies on the general subject of space, but also because many of our civilization's fundamental technologies were developed at this time in response to changes in space; the wheel is just one example.
Topoi has five research areas linked by cross-sectional groups. For example, Area E examines how ancient ideas of space, spatial orders and spatial thinking continue to have an effect to this day. Not only Pausanias is being studied in this context; other guides from the early modern period up until the mid-19th century are also being systematically evaluated. They document spaces of the ancient world when they were in a condition that was later destroyed – by the waves of modernization and industrialization in the 19th century. Important testimonies about spaces, ideas and conceptions of space are also found in literature, paintings, drawings and architecture. For example, in medieval and modern literature spaces of the ancient world are fictionalized and transformed.
The focus of interest is also on spoils – surviving remains of ancient buildings that were re-used in different ways in later structures. In this context, the scholars follow up the technical background and history of spoils recycling. They conduct field studies in North African churches and mosques and source studies in the archives of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and examine early Islamic buildings and monuments in the Iberian Peninsula.
Iris Därmann, Professor of Cultural Theory, is interested in the oikos, i.e. the house as a residence and part of the economic framework in Antiquity. The study of this complex object begins with Greek and Latin authors and leads up to a culture-historical description of the modern house and of modern economics and its categories; in this context it refers to the notions of the house that have been developed since the 19th century. Iris Därmann is also the spokesperson of a cross-sectional group which has the task of promoting a discussion of general issues of spatial and cultural theory.
For their part, Humboldt-Universität's theologians are moving in the footsteps of Adolf von Harnack. They are researching the spread of the early Christians through Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine – in Research Area B: 'Mechanisms of Control and Social Spaces'. Here they are scrutinizing Harnack's standard work 'The Expansion of Early Christianity'. How did Christianity spread from the towns to the countryside? Some of the questions here include what organizational or transport infrastructure provided any help, and what might have presented an obstacle? In another project theologians are examining spatial ideas in Christian texts.
Yet the 'heavenly kingdom' is not only of interest to theologians; Research Area D examines ancient theories on space and the ancient sciences that address the concept of space. The focus here is on ancient cosmology, physics and metaphysical descriptions of space and three-dimensionality.
For example, in close cooperation with colleagues from the field of philosophy, Thomas Poiss is investigating 'Timaeus' – part of Plato's late work which deals with issues of cosmology, mathematics and natural philosophy. The classical philologist is interested in the little-studied narratological aspects and the influence that the Presocratics had on Plato. Plato, for example, refers to the philosopher Anaxagoras, who coined the term nous, which returns in Plato's works as the spirit that orders the cosmos. Plato was also influenced by the work of Empedocles. The Presocratics coined, for example, the doctrine of the four elements of fire, water, earth and air. In 'Timaeus' Plato attempted to unify this doctrine and to explain how a basic area (chora) is overlaid by elementary geometrical bodies and appears in the form of the four elements.
The members of Topoi can finance a number of activities such as colloquia, workshops and conferences from Excellence Initiative funds. The research groups also have an opportunity to invite senior fellows. These German and foreign guest scientists can join Topoi researchers in Berlin for between two weeks and a year to research together, organize joint workshops, prepare publications or hold internal seminars to provide the Cluster with content that cannot be provided by the members. In addition to four newly established professorships, scholarships are being financed via Topoi for 33 doctoral and three post-doc positions at Humboldt-Universität.
Humboldt-Universität's Topoi scientists have been given a place to work and meet in the former building of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Hannoversche Strasse. Berlin is ideal for Topoi's development. In addition to the university and non-university capacities on all subjects relating to Antiquity, the State Museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation provide an ideal place in which to study museum spaces and the presentation of ancient objects and architecture. They are also used for the scholars' own presentations. So the public can already look forward to 2012, when the Pergamon Museum will be staging a major exhibition showing Topoi's research findings.
Berlin Antiquity College
A continuation of Topoi is planned after Topoi itself: Berlin's ancient historians are planning an Antiquity College to bring together Berlin's two existing Antiquity centres – Humboldt-Universität's 'August Boeckh Antiquity Centre' and the Freie Universität Berlin's 'Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of the Ancient World' – as well as many activities in the field of classical and ancient studies for certain projects. A graduate school is also planned. The two centres will retain their respective identities and build bridges to their universities. Working together enables a better presentation to the public. After all, the research findings of ancient historians not only provide information about the past, they also make it easier for us to understand our modern culture and science.
- Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin
- Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences
- German Archaeological Institute
- University of Applied Sciences Berlin (HTW)
- Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
- Technische Universität Berlin
- Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation