Knowledge Unbound

An International Research Project by the Max Weber Stiftung – Foundation German Humanities Institutes Abroad

From 2019 to 2021 the large-scale “Knowledge Unbound: Internationalisation, Networking, Innovation in and by the Max Weber Stiftung” research project pursued the aim of opening up innovative areas of research. At the same time, the project also strengthened the further internationalisation of the foundation’s activity and contributed to expanding co-operation and networking between the foundation’s institutes and external partners. The research project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and had a duration of three years.

The title reflects the project’s fundamental direction: adhering to the precept of pursuing “knowledge unbound”, attention was directed towards selected research areas – which, in addition to Europe, comprise key regions such as Africa, Near and Middle East and the Pacific region. They were gauged again with respect to the hitherto little explored knowledge ties between them and the relationships with each other were established. The project was composed of two different modules:


Module I: "Areas, Actors and Knowledge Relationships"

  • Submodule 1a:
    Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950's-1991)
  • Submodule 1b:
    Interaction and Knowledge in the Pacific Region: Entanglements and Disentanglements

Module II: "Borders of Knowledge"

  • Submodule 2a:
    Genoese Merchant Networks in Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean (ca. 1450–1530)
  • Submodule 2b:
    Medialisation and Empowerment
  • Submodule 2c:
    Iran and Beyond - Breaking the Ground for Sustainable Scholarly Collaboration (IRSSC): Performance of Culture, Religion and Body as Strategies of Self-Empowerment in the Islamic Republic of Iran


Module I comprised two internationally active research groups. Within the first research alliance, Orient-Institut (OI) Beirut with its office in Cairo, the German Historical Institute (GHI) Warsaw and the GHI Moscow dealt with the theme of “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950-1991)”. Further external partners were the Forum Tranregionale Studien in Berlin, the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam, the American University of Beirut, the Arab Council for Social Studies in Beirut, the Centre for Iraq Studies, Beirut, the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, the Higher Institute of Arts Criticism in Cairo, the Centre d’Études Franco-Russes de Moscou and the Centre d´Études Maghrebines à Tunis. There were also partnerships with the universities of Freiburg, Leipzig and Marburg as well as the universities in Algiers, Rabat, Teheran and Tunis. The intention was to find out how the educational mobility from the 1950s to 1991 between the countries in the former eastern bloc and the regions in West Asia and North Africa developed and how transnational relations were influenced as a result. Special attention was paid here to the Humanities and Social Sciences.

In the second research group the GHI Moscow, the GHI Washington with its Pacific Regional Office Berkeley, the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) in Tokyo with its research group in Singapore and the China Branch Office in Peking were working together on “Interaction and Knowledge in the Pacific Region: Entanglements and Disentanglements”. Other external partners were the National University of Singapore, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the University of California, Berkeley, the École Française d’Extrême Orient, the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, the Hokkaido University and the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. A partnership with the East West Centre in Honolulu was pursued too. The research group’s study focused in particular on the two theme areas of “Migration and Mobility” and “Environment, Climate, Energy“. As this involves cross-border phenomena, a transnationally oriented research group is especially suited for analysing these aspects. Reasons for choosing the Pacific as a subject of research include the rapid developments – compared to the Atlantic – in this region, which has a globally significant future.

The three standing working groups were organised in Module II. These international groups of researchers met regularly at varying locations throughout the entire project duration in order to generate new research areas and academically driven questions. In this way, the institutes of the Max Weber Stiftung gained valuable impetus for their research assignments in their respective regions.

In collaboration with Italian, US-American, North-African and South-African partners, the Standing Working Group of GHI Rome studied “Genoese Merchant Networks in Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean (ca. 1450–1530)”and the importance of the circulation of people, objects and institutes between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic area. Throughout the course of the research project the established narrative of the rise of capitalism in 18th-century Northern Europe was critically scrutinised. The researchers determined to what extent similar structures (including those independent of European influence) developed in the “Global South“.

The Standing Working Group of GHI London on the theme of “Medialisation and Empowerment“ united the partners MWF Delhi, OI Beirut, GHI Washington, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi and the Centre for Modern Indian Studies of the University in Göttingen. The research enquired into interactions between the rise of mass media and emancipation movements over the long 20th century. It concentrated on women as the largest self-emancipation reference group and the medial circulation and reception of feminist ideas within a global context.

The Standing Working Group of OI Istanbul along with its partners in Germany, Turkey, Iran, France and Pakistan concerned itself with “Iran and Beyond - Breaking the Ground for Sustainable Scholarly Collaboration (IRSSC): Performance of Culture, Religion and Body as Strategies of Self-Empowerment in the Islamic Republic of Iran“. The focus here was on socio-cultural changes, above all in Iran but also in Turkey and Pakistan. These processes are heavily influenced by national and international migration flows and a rapidly growing urbanisation, which occur against the background of medial globalisation processes and reciprocal cultural influences. In this context, the Standing Working Group also examined how the processes which are to be described are being controlled by these countries’ political elites according to their own interests.

Knowledge Unbound - The Max Weber Foundation´s Podcast