Fr 26 Okt 2018 | 14:30–18:00

Transoceanic Cultures: The Sea in Past and Present

Organized by Forum Transregionale Studien, Max Weber Stiftung and the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies

Exzellenzcluster »Asia and Europe in a Global Context«, Universität Heidelberg, Voßstr. 2, 69115 Heidelberg

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Lebendiger Ozean – Ein Bericht vom WeberWorldCafé »Transoceanic Cultures«

Oceans are key arenas of mobility, both in past and present times. They enable goods and people, ideas and practices to move around the globe. Oceans connect far-away shores and form specific “Ocean Worlds”. Today, scholars and the public increasingly talk about the Indian Ocean World, the Pacific World, the Atlantic World, or the Mediterranean, for example. But how do such transoceanic worlds form and what holds them together? Oceans are more than mere highways of transport. They are a significant site of historical and contemporary experience, not an ‘empty’ and ‘timeless’ space. Their role as global seas has changed over time, and so has the perception of oceans, whether as sites of grandeur and wonder, as places of danger and risk, or as an environment for economic opportunity.


At the WeberWorldCafé, we discussed oceans as connectors and transregional spaces, rather than boundaries and distances to be overcome. Our experts from history, archaeology, art history, cultural studies and literary studies covered a wide array of chronologies and geographical regions. On six thematic tables, they discussed with you questions such as: How can we study the oceans as historic spaces and why is it important? What are the challenges of studying ocean worlds – as they are often multi-lingual and multi-cultural? How have perceptions and imaginations of the ocean changed over time and across different world regions? And, most importantly, are oceans truly transregional spaces?

The event “Transoceanic Cultures: The Sea in Past and Present” took place on October 26, 2018 from 3:00 to 6:00pm in the Cluster “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, Heidelberg University. The event is a cooperation between the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland, the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies. It was curated and organized by Susann Liebich (Cluster “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”) and Johanna Beamish (Max Weber Stiftung).

The Format

The WeberWorldCafé (WWC) is an alternative event format for which we invite twice a year people from different regions and disciplines to come together and discuss in a café-like atmosphere one central topic. At the WeberWorldCafé, scholars, experts, intellectuals or public personalities from different disciplines and regions come together and moderate discussions in English or German on topic-specific tables. These experts will, together with the participants, discuss various (trans)regional and (inter)disciplinary perspectives and angles to approach the theme of “Transoceanic Cultures.” The selected topics to be discussed allow both a historical and a contemporary perspective on the role of the global seas. There will be six thematic tables. The experts take on the role as table hosts – usually as a pair – and share their knowledge with the participants, who engage in the conversation as equals, attending up to four subsequent tables during the event. After a discussion of 25 to 30 minutes, the participants move to another table of their choice. In that way, the guests can join discussions on four different aspects of the overall theme, which will be enriched by the participants’ knowledge gained in the previous discussions held at other tables.

Since experts and participants have different backgrounds, everyone brings a different set of pre-existing knowledge, interests and perspectives to the table(s). The goal of this event format is to encourage and connect fresh perspectives and new insights. The event closes with a summary of the results and conclusions of the day providing space for continued informal debates.

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