Research Areas

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A. Conflict Transformation

Research on the transformation of wars and violent conflicts is an important field of research, particularly in peace and conflict research at the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC) and the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS). In peace processes, the concept of ‘reconciliation’ contrasts with approaches that ignore and exclude experiences of violence. In practice, however, there are various forms of conflict transformation. Instruments that are also used as part of peace processes that aim to achieve reconciliation (forgive and forget) include truth commissions (e.g. in South Africa), alternative forms of jurisdiction (e.g. gacaca courts in Rwanda), international tribunals, compensation payments and general amnesties. A research desideratum is the investigation of peace processes at the local community level, which have thus far only been selectively examined. Accordingly, the focus on violent conflicts and peace processes should contribute to the BVZ’s international visibility.

B. Provenance Research

The cross-faculty research centre for provenance research, art and cultural property protection law at the University of Bonn  is of utmost importance in addressing legacies of colonialism and reconciliation. It mobilises the activities of three new professors who began their work at the University of Bonn during the 2018 summer semester: Matthias Weller, who holds the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach endowed professorships for civil law, art and cultural property protection law; Christoph Zuschlag, who studies modern art history and the present, with a focus on provenance research and history of collecting; and Ulrike Saß, who holds a junior professorship for art historical provenance research until May 2022. The research centre’s activities are supplemented by ethnological provenance research at the Museum of the Bonn Americas Collection (Grana-Behrens/ Noack 2020). The legacy of former colonies and the function of objects as ‘mediators between disputing parties’ are both central to restitution research and the research of conflict transformation. Therefore, reconciliation research also contends with the juridification of reconciliation processes (e.g. reparations). For example, one topic of analysis is differences in the Federal German Republic and the German Democratic Republic’s tackling of reparation processes.

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Cultural Heritage and Slavery
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C. Cultural Heritage and Slavery

Through the participation of the cluster Beyond Slavery and Freedom: Asymmetrical Dependency in Pre-Modern Societies, reconciliation research at the University of Bonn builds a bridge to research on the processing of the slave trade and slavery. Research on slavery also focuses on collective memories and collective representation. Especially in countries that were particularly affected by slavery, there is a wealth of scientific research on the representation and analysis of collective memories. By contrast, the collective handling of colonial heritage and slavery in European states that owned plantation colonies and/or were involved in the transatlantic slave trade has played a subordinate role thus far. In Africa, dealing with the memory of the overseas slave trade and dealing with the memory of African participation in slave trade are often conflicting efforts. In recent years, postcolonial debates in civil society have spurred European countries to add the issue of addressing legacies of slavery to the remembrance agenda (UNESCO, 2018). Some cities established new memorials, plaques, Slavery Heritage Guides and Slavery Heritage Routes. There is increasing debate about whether, where and how slavery should be remembered, who should apologise to whom, who should compensate whom and whether and how reconciliation is possible.

D. Peace Research

Peace research has a long history at the university through the Center for Historical Peace Research. Historical peace research is part of reconciliation research. It provides a historical perspective and enables to relate ‘reconciliation processes’ and ‘peace agreements’ to each other. At the Center for Historical Peace Research, scientists from the University of Bonn work on pre-modern principles of peace-making. The centre is also where the “Acta Pacis Westphalicae” (APW), the authoritative edition of files for the Westphalian Peace Congress (1643–1649), was created. 1962 Publications of the first volume of the APW have already been published, 40 volumes are digitally available from “APW Digital”. The ZhF holds a special library on the subject of war and peace, with a focus on the early modern period (including numerous contemporary works, hundreds of microfilms and microfiches with stocks from over 150 European archives and libraries and an extensive collection of contemporary journalism).

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Binationale und nationale Versöhnungsprozesse
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E. Bilateral and National Reconciliation Processes

The BCR researches both bilateral and national reconciliation processes with the participation of national cooperation partners, such as the KWI and international cooperation partners, such as the DAAD centres in Israel and Japan. The investigation of a diachronic analysis of narratives in Franco-German attempts at reconciliation against the background of antagonistic storytelling is current and relevant. For example, a project to develop transnational textbooks for history classes is examining how fundamentally different perspectives of the same conflict constellations can be presented side by side without normative evaluation or even denial. Other issues in this area concern the relationship between Palestine and Israel, German–Israeli history and German–Jewish history in Israel.

Collaborative Research

A.    Graduate School

An application for a German Research Foundation’s 'national graduate college' entitled ‘The idea of ​​reconciliation and its equivalents in a transcultural comparison’ is planned. From the applicants’ perspective, reconciliation has ‘added value’ compared to contractually secured peace agreements. ‘Reconciliation’, on the other hand, is understood as a process that also requires a culture of remembrance. This is where, for example, research on the ‘narrativity of reconciliation processes’ becomes relevant. The application relates to the DFG funding format 'national graduate college', but it is characterised by a strong international connection because the college embeds the research question in a systematic cultural comparison. Doctoral students benefit from a research network that is likely unique in Germany. This is based not only on the participating faculties’ diversity of subjects but also on the competence of the centres that are thematically related to the research topic German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) and the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies and the cluster Beyond Slavery and Freedom: Asymmetrical Dependencies in Pre-Modern Societies. Moreover, the DAAD centres in Israel and Japan and the research institute Democracia y Derechos Humanos at the PUCP of the University of Lima serve as cooperation partners. The development oft the national graduate college will be the result of cooperation between participating researchers and TRA 5 ('Present Pasts').

B. Research Group

The ‘Reconciliation’ research group aims to supplement reconciliation research through theoretically oriented constellation analysis. The strategies, practices, institutions and processes that enable or hinder reconciliation are analyzed in terms of their interactions with social, political, cultural or religious semantics of ideas of reconciliation to develop a generalisable theory of reconciliation. The research objective is theoretically oriented fundamental research that identifies cross-case constellation patterns between semantics, action strategies, practices, rituals, procedures and institutions to systematically relate the transcultural validity of reconciliation constellations to case applications without diffusing into the delta of self-differentiating and self-relating culturality. This research objective distinguishes the research group from projects that seek to identify a generalised reconciliation practice for intervening in ongoing processes through direct advice and actor training. The development of the research group will be the result of a cooperation between participating researchers and TRA 4 ('Individuals and Societies').

Avatar Albrecht

Prof. Dr. Clemens Albrecht

Other Projects

Politics Of Remembrance Under The Sign Of Ambiguity Tolerance

Politics of remembrance is working on the past for the sake of a common future. It is open to development and controversial, it is fought for and sometimes won. However, if politics of remembrance contributes to the critical examination of ideologies, past and present crimes against humanity and various constructions of identity, then it must be reflective. Such reflexivity "lives” from the ability for reciprocity of perspectives. This ability opens the possibility of comparing one's own ideas of a successful life with those of others and of commenting on them. Reciprocity is thus the foundation of ambiguity tolerance and the core of free communities. Politics of remembrance characterized by tolerance of ambiguity enables individuals and entire societies to deal responsibly with competing narratives and to design alternative, humane future scenarios.

Avatar Soeffner

Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Soeffner

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