From homo heidelbergensis to dugong dance: The Indigenous Cultural Heritage of Northwest Australia in Light of the German Scientific Tradition
Project leader: Dr. Carsten Wergin (Transcultural Studies)
Funding line: Cultural Heritage and History
German and European scientific traditions have had a lasting impact on the reception and understanding of Indigenous culture in Australia. The aim of this project is to analyze, for the first time, the material of anatomist and explorer Hermann Klaatsch (1863-1916). Klaatsch left his home institution in Heidelberg in search of human origins in Australia, undertaking a three-year field trip between 1904 and 1907. Here he documented the material and immaterial heritage of many Indigenous groups, and accompanied his ethnographic research with an extensive collection of artefacts. The ethnological records that stem from Klaatsch’s repeated phases of fieldwork are the original sources under study for this project, with a focus on material that he collected in Northwest Australia. Of particular value are his very early findings on religion, language, history, art and material culture. Based on the analysis of his findings, the research project will foster interdisciplinary discussion on the history and distribution of scientific knowledge, and the particular role of the University of Heidelberg as Klaatsch’s home institution.
In addition to the study of the original data, the project will also present a detailed analysis of Klaatsch’s pioneering methodological approach to the field. His interdisciplinary perspective – p r i o r to the specification of separate academic disciplines – raises new questions around knowledge production and history, particularly the influence and dissemination of German scientific traditions and their understanding of cultures and research ethics. Such questions are again of increasing importance in today’s globalized world.