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DFG Research Group 530. Self-Narratives in Transcultural Perspective

Welcome to the Research Group 530 of the German Research Foundation (DFG)
Department of History and Cultural Studies at the Free University in Berlin

The common focus of this DFG Research Group is written "self-narratives," i. e., writings about the author's own life that hold to specific narrative conventions. Scholars have long held “autobiography” to be a specifically western genre, and have long associated it with specifically western conceptualizations of "individuality" or of a "universal" abstract self. Such formulations tend to cast the process of modernization as the emergence of the autonomous individual on the one hand and of market capitalism on the other. Contemporary scholarship, which interprets autobiographies as self-narratives and evaluates them in the light of new questions and new methodologies, has exposed the inadequacy of these specifically western notions. As a result, the historical study of self-narratives has developed a series of new approaches to these source materials that take as their analytical focus the writing subject as active agent in the context of her or his own social and cultural relations. In specific reference to non-European cultures, the study of self-narratives remains in an early phase but is rapidly gaining significance. This research group combines the efforts of scholars from a variety of disciplines, whose studies move beyond Europe to include the Middle East and Far East, among others, not only to further the current study of self-narratives but also to develop new approaches to them.

The objective of this research group is the thematization of the "self-narrated life" in a variety of cultures, a variety of periods, a variety of regions, and a variety of contexts. By setting the autobiographical writings in the context of the writers’ social relations, it is possible to understand them as social and cultural praxis. Such research should dissolve the established notion-particularly celebrated in the West but applied frequently to other cultures-that the developments of individuality and of autobiography are closely connected and mutually dependent. This misconception should yield to an open engagement with the specific concept of the "person" as formulated in each self-narrative.

In its encounter with western concepts of individuality, the research group will contribute to the larger debates concerning the leitmotivs of classical modernization theory. From an analysis of self-narratives and the "persons" they portray in terms of social and cultural praxis will emerge important contributions to the contemporary discussion of "multiple modernities."

The research group, whose application was allowed February 2004,

is since September 2004 researching the following subjects:

I. Ritualized Ways of Life

Director: Prof. Dr. Claudia Ulbrich, historian, FU Berlin

Project 1: Hospitality in Self-Narratives: Concepts of the Person and Ritualized Action in Early Modern Europe

Researcher: Dr. Gabriele Jancke
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Claudia Ulbrich

Project 2: The Diplomatic Persona in Political Ritual

Project 2a: Ottoman diplomatic accounts 

Researcher: Abdullah Güllüoglu M.A.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Barbara  Kellner-Heinkele

Project 2b: Western European diplomatic accounts

Researcher: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Christine Vogel
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Burschel

II. Between Violence, Compulsion and Inner Conversion

Director: Prof. Dr. Angelika Schaser, historian, Hamburg Univ.

Project 3: Perception of the Person in Receptions of Violence. Self-Narratives from the Thirty Years War

Researcher: Dr. Andreas Bähr
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Claudia Ulbrich

Project 4: Self-Narratives of Christian Conversions in the Holy Roman Empire and the Netherlands During the Confessional Age (17./18. c.)

Researcher: Dr. Gesine Carl
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Angelika Schaser

Project 5: Confessions of Japanese War Criminals in Chinese Captivity

Researcher: Dr. Petra Buchholz
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit

III. Continuities and Breaks

Director: Prof. Dr. Hans Medick, Göttingen / FU Berlin

Project 6: The Diary of Heinrich Witt (1799-1890) as a Transcultural Space

Researcher: Christa Wetzel, M.A.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Mücke

Project 7: Memoirs and Autobiographies of Armenian Fedayis

Researcher: Elke Hartmann M.A.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Kellner-Heinkele

IV. Autobiographical Writing as Cultural Practice

Director: Prof. Dr. Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Japanese Studies, FU Berlin

Project 8: Narrative construction of masculinity in autobiographical texts of the 15th and 16th century

Researcher: Franziska Ziep, M.A.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kasten