University of Erfurt

Globalisation and local knowledge

Globalisation and local knowledge: collection-based research into the Justus Perthes Verlag

“Globalisation and local knowledge: collection-based research into the Justus Perthes Verlag” is the title of a pilot project now initiated at the Forschungszentrum Gotha für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien (Gotha Research Centre for Cultural and Sociological Studies), University of Erfurt and supported with a grant of 300,000 euros from the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. The project is scheduled for implementation over a period of three years and aims to highlight the research potential of the cartographic and geographical “Gotha Perthes Collection”, which was acquired in 2003 from the Free State of Thuringia. It will also contribute to the continued indexing activity in the holdings of the Collection and, among other things, serve to establish the so-called “GlobMapLaboratory”, a virtual map platform.

The Perthes Collection has hitherto been perceived by academics and by the public as, first and foremost, a collection of maps. While maps indubitably constituted the core of the output of the Perthes publishing house, map production accounted for only a small proportion of the overall activities of the publisher. Not only was Gotha the hub of mapping, popularisation and sale of geographical knowledge, Perthes was also an institution in which knowledge in the fields of geography and natural sciences was collated and disseminated using a wide range of media. Even for contemporaries, Perthes was not merely a passive distribution channel for geographical products but also – on a par with a university or scientific research institute – one of the most important and lively hubs in the “geographical republic of scholars”, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The central location of the publishing house in the academic landscape of that time is still reflected today in the Perthes Collection. As a working instrument of the publishing house, aside from the Map Collection there are also categories of material that have hitherto received scant attention, and which – like a chain – form a link between the initial observations in the field and the final cartographic products: drawings specifying measurements, field notes, sketches of maps, travel logs and correspondence, cartographers’ work journals, copper plates, the company’s archived material such as accounts, an extensive specialist geographical library and loose-leaf collections by the metre containing detailed information. However, the unique interplay between the various categories of this wealth of surviving material has barely been acknowledged in the research of cultural historians until now. In the international context, the Perthes Collection is also one of the few archives that was organised not as a university or a library but as a business, and that also functioned as an important engine of scientific research. There is hardly any comparable collection in existence in which economies of knowledge can be traced in such variety and complexity as is the case with the Gotha Collection.

The new project-based study being carried out at the Gotha Research Centre now aims to use three case studies to examine the interconnections between the uniquely dovetailed categories of material within the Collection, and build on this to develop more long-term strategies for innovative, collection-specific research based on third-party funding. Following on from and closely linked to this, a virtual map laboratory is to be established, by means of which the materials and findings from the case studies are to be presented and map holdings in the Perthes Collection made available in digital format. Ultimately, the profile of the Gotha Research Centre is to be expanded around the focal point of “collection-based history of knowledge and science relating to globalisation in modern times”, the existing infrastructure reinforced by attracting third-party funding and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (German Research Foundation) projects and the map laboratory transferred to a virtual environment for Web-based academic work in the areas of research and teaching. “Our project will make a significant contribution to raising the trans-regional and international profile of Thuringia’s academic collections and research landscape”, says the academic historian Nils Güttler, who took up his post as one of two project staff supported by the Ministry. “At the same time, we want to use our plans for the Perthes Collection and the development of Gotha as a research centre to make a significant contribution to the energetic efforts of the Free State of Thuringia to turn Gotha into a ‘Baroque universe’, the second cultural heart of Thuringia, alongside ‘Cosmos Weimar’.”

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Dr. Nils Güttler


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