As a Cluster, we uphold equal opportunity as an ethical imperative and as an asset. We aim to be aware of, dismantle, and wherever possible eliminate structural obstacles to participation in research that individuals face due to their gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic or religious affiliation, nationality, age, socio-economic status and dis-/ability, as well as to racist bias. We consider this effort key to achieving not only excellence in research, but also personal and social wellbeing, growth, and resilience within and beyond academia.
Our equal opportunity work builds on and aims to expand both the DFG Research-Oriented Equity and Diversity Standards and our University’s commitment to equity, diversity, and sustainable development.
It centres inclusive practices and expansive and emancipatory initiatives that generate structural shifts in the ways we do research and nurture research communities – those at our Cluster, those with whom we collaborate locally and globally, and those our young scholars will join, shape, and lead in the future.
For us, inclusion is about ensuring that all feel respected and valued and are supported to thrive within our scholarly communities. It is also about opening up research and scholarship to a multiplicity of voices, perspectives, ways of knowing and belonging, social and cultural projects, and stakeholders.
Many of us have long-term connections in communities whose interests, epistemologies, and methodologies have been under severe pressure for the past several centuries, and we all work on precisely the kinds of material artefacts that were often translocated during colonial encounters. We are thus in a unique position to push for changes in global research practices and we have a responsibility to lead in this field.
Accordingly, we strive to put equal opportunity at the core of all we do at the Cluster, from recruiting members, training them, supporting them financially and responding to their needs, to designing our projects, collecting and handling data, writing up and sharing our findings, developing software, organising events, and engaging communities and publics beyond academia.
Equal Training Opportunities
For the past five years, our MA Programme ‘Manuscript Cultures’, hosted by the Asia Africa Institute in the Faculty of Humanities, has welcomed students from over 20 different countries, including Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, the UK, the US, as well as Germany. Our MA Fellowship Programme enables us to offer admission also to economically disadvantaged students – often the first in their families to attend university.
The PhD Programme at our Cluster has also attracted students from all over the world. Our current students come from Belarus, China, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mali, Peru, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, the US, and Vietnam. Many of these young researchers study written artefacts located in or stemming from their countries of origin, and some return to these countries to take up positions in universities, research centres, libraries, and archives. Some of these scholars have recently set up an alumni network and we plan to welcome them back at career development events for current graduate students and postdocs.
We actively promote the scholarly and career development of our MA and PhD students and of our postdocs by organising workshops and programs on key professional and transferable skills within our Cluster. We offer a weekly hands-on workshop on academic writing in English, a beginner’s level German-language course, networking events, career development talks, and mentoring programmes that combine group workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions and that are designed specifically for female scholars and international scholars. Past events have focused on, for example, the hiring process in German academia, academic writing and publishing, and wellbeing and productivity in academia. Our early career researchers can also take advantage of numerous university-wide skill and career development opportunities offered at or through the Career Center, the Hamburg Research Academy, and the Hamburg Center for University Teaching and Learning.
We support the career development and scholarly achievement of our early career researchers also by providing advice on data management and research ethics consultations tailored to their individual projects through our Cluster’s Ethics Committee. By regularly involving our postdocs and junior professors in cross-disciplinary conversations, we equip them to become reflexive and open-minded scholars that will be able to feel at home in a broad variety of disciplinary communities.
We strive to take the interests and perspectives of our postdoctoral researchers very seriously because we are aware that the future of our scholarly communities depends on their work. Some of our postdocs are spokepersons of Research Fields. Together with a postdoc spokesperson, they are full members of our Steering Committee, where they represent the interests of their peers.
Equal Work/Life Balance Opportunities
Members of the Cluster who have family care responsibilities can benefit from various work/family life balance measures offered at the Cluster, including flexible working hours and the provision of student assistants. We hope to soon be able to offer financial aid for research travel with children. We also facilitate Cluster members’ access to university-wide services for researchers with care responsibilities coordinated through the Family Office. All our female professors are entitled to a sabbatical leave financed by the Cluster.
Ethical Research as an Opportunity Equaliser
We seek to multiply opportunities to engage in research on and conservation of written artefacts and to amplify the social and political impact of our research and conservation projects.
Our research emerges from and sparks collaborations not only across disciplines in the humanities, natural sciences, and computer sciences, but also between academic and non-academic communities and between our university and multiple other organisations, from UN agencies to local non-governmental groups, across the Global North and the Global South.
In Cultural Heritage projects that are funded externally but are closely linked to our Cluster and draw on the expertise and networks of our researchers, we partner with local laboratories and educational and research institutes to strengthen their conservation capabilities, help implement conservational treatment of local collections of written artefacts, and improve access to these collections. We also conduct short- and long-term training programs in manuscript conservation and management.
We are currently cooperating with institutions in India, Indonesia, Mali, Nepal, Tunisia, and Vietnam. In the course of these collaborations, we also develop joint research and publication projects. Across these collaborations, we aim to recognise the key role written artefacts play in the definition and practice of local cultural identities and to empower local communities, scholarly and lay ones alike, to determine what knowledge is produced, and how, from and around these artefacts. With ‘Written Artefacts as Cultural Heritage’, launched in 2020, we have established a venue for publishing peer-reviewed research on these topics. In line with our social and political commitments, this journal is openly accessible.
We uphold our commitment to empowering the communities we work with also by advocating FAIR and CARE principles in handling data and by requiring that all Cluster members abide by them in their individual research projects. All software developed within our Cluster is openly accessible. In future, we aspire to develop strategies that will help us open our publications to a more diverse pools of contributors.
Finally, we regularly open our Summer and Winter Schools to students and scholars from all over the world and from across the disciplines. In 2023, we are organising a Summer School which will also be open to both local and international students from across the disciplines and for which financial aid will be available.
Equal Opportunity as a Research Lens
We increasingly strive to centre the question of how unequal access to training and research opportunities has shaped research on written artefacts in a variety of Cluster events and initiatives. What kinds of writing practices, writers, and written artefacts have been overlooked? Which analytical approaches and interpretive perspectives have been centred, which ones marginalised? How inclusive is research on written artefacts today? What would research on written artefacts that fosters equality of opportunities look like?
As a leading centre for the study of written artefacts globally, we see these as key research questions to be answered at regional, methodological, and theoretical levels. Our goal for the coming years is to incorporate these questions in our scholarship across all our research fields.
We have begun to explore these questions through a lecture series, held in Winter 2022/23 and open to academic and non-academic audiences, entitled ‘Between Invisibility and Autonomy: Negotiating Gender Roles in Manuscript Cultures’, and we are planning a lecture series on diversity questions in our Cluster’s research and a university-wide event on gender perspectives in research on written artefacts in Summer 2023. Starting in Summer 2023, we will also run the guest professorship program ‘Women in Manuscript Cultures’, through which we will host German and international female scholars working on written artefacts or written artefact scholars foregrounding gender topics.
Equalising Future Opportunities
In order to attract a student body that is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and social and educational background, we cooperate with schools in the Hamburg region.
With our Excellence in Schools programme, we walk out of our labs and offices to work with students at their high schools. During these events, and on the Girls’ and Boys’ Days we plan to continue organising yearly together with other Departments and the three other Clusters of Excellence at Universität Hamburg (Climate, Climatic Change, and Society; CUI: Advanced Imaging of Matter; Quantum Universe), children and youth can discover some of the questions we ask at the Cluster and some of the methods by which we investigate them.
We are also currently designing training programmes and instructional resources to enable elementary school teachers to approach literary practices (for example writing systems, book materials and formats, reading and writing traditions) as valuable cultural heritage, particularly in immigrant communities. Here we can build on scholarship on this topic as well as existing forays into children’s literature by some of our researchers.
Not least in order to assess the impacts of these initiatives, we will soon start monitoring our members’ experiences and needs through dedicated surveys, research-field specific meetings, and meetings for young researchers. In the hope that this contributes to increasing awareness of equal opportunity issues within our community, we plan to share our findings with the entire Cluster at the end of every semester.
If you have questions about the equal opportunity initiatives described on this page or would like to suggest new ones, please contact our Equal Opportunity Coordinator, Mariapaola Gritti.
Please also get in touch with our Equal Opportunity Coordinator if you are a member of the Cluster and are experiencing work conditions that negatively affect you, including hostility, discrimination, or harassment of any kind. The Coordinator can help to find a solution, including through connecting you to relevant advising services and ombudspersons within the university.
You can also contact our Coordinator if you would like us to help you navigate difficult passages in your training or career – for example, balancing work and family life, coping with physical or psychological impairments or disabilities, and adjusting to a new cultural/linguistic/academic context.
We will do our best to understand your needs and help you set up or access relevant support structures.