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Political Archive
of the Federal Foreign Office 

In the midst of January 2020 a small group of advanced students of the master’s program Cultural Studies of the Middle East and the Institute of Oriental Studies Bamberg started their study trip to Berlin in the early morning hours. Their destination was the Federal Foreign Office – they passed the representative glass structure and the busy “Protokollhof” of the Ministry and turned to an inconspicuous side entrance. 

In the basement of the former Reichsbank

At the Kurstraße 26, away from the di­plo­ma­tic hustle and bustle, the memory of the Fe­deral Foreign Office is kept carefully. In safes of the former „Reichsbank“, a con­sider­able amount of 27 kilometers of contracts, docu­ments and files are stored, most of them from 1871 till recent times.

First the history and the building itself were of common interest. In a one-hour guided tour of the underground depots, we saw important original documents of the German and European history and exchanged opin­ions about the stocks, safekeeping, digi­ti­za­tion and restoration of documents.

Time for research projects

In the second part of our visit we focused on the research interest of the participants. Be­forehand we got in touch with the archive and after an individual counselling the rele­vant files were opened for inspection. Most of the participants took part in our semi­nar en­ti­tled “Minorities and Identity policy in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic” and their main research interest was in that context. The spectrum of research questions ranged from activities of Albanian intel­lec­tuals in the late 19th century to Mus­lim war refugees from the Balkan count­ries at the dawn of the First World War or to German dropouts, who travelled to and stranded in the Middle East.

Finds and deciphering

Back in Bamberg, the results and challenges of the research in the archive enriched the discussions of the seminar. Besides the variety of the material and the interchange about the unexpected finds, the deciphering of the dynamic running hand, common in the 19th century, were in the center of the ef­forts. For students used to the handling of Arabic and ottoman handwritings this was a quite new experience still relying on strate­gies from the field of oriental studies.

Text: Elite Graduate Program "Cultural Studies of the Middle East"