When King Frederick William III of Prussia founded the University of Bonn in 1818 he thought the former residence of the elector would be a fruitful place for scientific education. In 1964, several cultural institutes were added to this university, among them the 'Seminar für Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft Zentralasiens'. The institute found a home in the attic of one of the gate-houses of the baroque, regal, residence.
By Ingrid Nooijens
Professor W. Heissig, an energetic advocate of Mongolian studies, became the Seminar's
first director. In its initial years Mongolia and Tibet were the spearheads of the Institute.
This was self-evident since Professor Heissig, at that time the only professor at the
seminar, had already devoted his energy to the 'Mongol cause' for several years. His
particular interest was the search for and research into old Mongolian manuscripts. In the
fifties he gave Mongolia a more visible place in the scientific world. He catalogued all the
Mongolian manuscripts he could find in Europe; many at that time barely known
manuscripts then saw the light of day. He stood at the cradle of the Permanent
International Altaïstic Conference (PIAC), the annual meetings of the Conference
are still attended by Mongolists from all over the world. He also founded a series of
monographs, under the generic title Asiatische Forschungen.
From 1964 till his retirement in 1981 the seminar at Bonn benefited from his knowledge, contacts, and organizing abilities. Under his guidance the seminar soon widened its scope and in 1969 introduced the Sonderforschungsbereich, an interdisciplinary alliance of several branching Oriental Studies that focused on Central Asia and resulted in prolific research into the many unanswered questions concerning the area. Possible answers and scientific ideas produced by students and scholars at the Institute have been published in the annual journal Zentralasiatische Studien since the 1960s.
From the day on which the Institute was founded Prof. Heissig enjoyed the company of two youngsters, Mr. Weiers and Mr. Sagaster, who added their knowledge of Manchu-Tungus, Turkology, Central Asian history, Tibet and Buddhism. Today they are still attached to the institute as professors; with three colleagues they constitute the brains behind the seminar. Among these colleagues is Professor Kämpfe, who is endeavouring to unravel the Paleo-Asiatic languages. The Russian scholar Professor Volodin has been a guest at the seminar and lifted a tip of the red veil that covered this field of study during Soviet days. The new international constellation has made a broadening of this field of study possible. Central Asian guest-teachers are a common feature at the institute; since several semesters the students had the opportunity to learn the colloquial language of Mongolia and Uzbekistan from the lips of a native speaker. Languages, history, linguistics, literature, folklore, and religions of Central Asia are the main fields of study at the Institute.
Keeping in step with modern times, the seminar has put together a training programme for those who see a bright future in business contacts with the region. In this way the Institute is seizing a chance to disseminate its knowledge among students with more practical interests in Central Asia. Those who are interested need stamina because the seminar keeps them busy for three and a half years. It must be worth the energy because at the end of the course the student can speak a variety of Central Asian languages, has knowledge of the heroic past of Central Asia, and is initiated into the economics, culture, and religions of the area: the Central Asian business-community will be impressed by this new kind of trade partner. Another adaptation to modernity is the plan to open a World Wide Web site on Internet on which the several journals that are published under the auspices of the seminar will be easily accessible. The main problem is the assurance of copyright; in the early summer of 1996 an international conference will try to remove this obstacle. It is most likely that soon the contributions of the seminar will be able be read 'worldwide'.
Seminar für Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft Zentralasiens
The University of Bonn
Regina Pacisweg 7