Excellence Cluster Topoi

Topoi combines Berlin’s strengths in ancient studies research. Supported by the Freie Universität Berlin and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Excellence Cluster is the product of cooperation with the four major institutions in Berlin involved in research into antiquity: the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Central to its mission are the concepts of “space” and “knowledge”.

At the heart of the Excellence Cluster stands the interplay of space and knowledge in the formation and transformation of ancient cultures and societies. Space in this context refers to a wide range of real and conceptual spaces. Topics to be explored range from the archaeological and geo-scientific reconstruction of ancient landscapes to the organization of spaces from a historical perspective; from the description of spaces in images and texts to the scholarly reconstruction of those spaces in ancient philosophy and mathematics. The category of knowledge not only encompasses ancient knowledge of spatial relations in the world. It also concerns the form in which information is recorded and passed on and refers to practically applied knowledge, empirical knowledge and theoretical treatments of natural phenomena.

Cultures ranging from the Neolithic Period in 7000 BC to late antiquity are investigated, together with their impact on the Middle Ages and the modern era. From a geographical perspective, Topoi projects include cultures of the Mediterranean region, the ancient Near East and the Black Sea region, as well as cultures of the Eurasian steppes and Central Europe.
All told, there are twenty-two “research groups” working in four areas. Each research group has an overarching problem, and each project within the group investigates individual aspects of this problem. The goal is to pose interdisciplinary research questions that can be explored in individual projects with the aid of field-specific expertise. Networking between the areas is facilitated by two formats: the Key Topics and the Topoi Lab.

Since its founding in November 2007, the Excellence Cluster Topoi has consistently demonstrated how much potential interdisciplinary cooperation holds for research into the ancient world. Archaeologists and philosophers, philologists and geographers, historians and natural scientists work together on numerous projects and exchange views on overarching issues.