In The Field: A PhD Abroad

This issue, we have taken a somewhat different approach to the “In The Field” section than you have been getting used to. As we were reminded, not just the interaction with other fields such as Archaeology falls under the “In The Field”-category. Travelling to universities and interacting within projects are all part of the hands-on approach that is a part of Assyriology. Therefore, we have asked one PhD student to give some information on what it is like to be working abroad, within a large project.

Wanting to gain experience and going for your PhD is one thing, finding a spot in a program is another. As a student, you never know where you are going to start out.  Lidewij van de Peut managed to become a doctoral fellow at the Excellence Cluster “Topoi”, in Berlin. Originally from the Netherlands, she has been living in Germany for almost a year now. Lidewij explains how she got to where she is today: “In 2012, Topoi, in cooperation with the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS) and the Institut für Altorientalistik at the Freie Universität Berlin, offered me the possibility to come to Germany to work on my own research project on Hittite prayers”, she says. “Their possible relationship to Mesopotamian prayers, within the larger project of Topoi, is the main theme on which I focus.”

The larger project to which she is referring, is the Excellence Cluster Topoi, which started its second phase in 2012. Over 200 researchers from different parts of the world are working there, each within their own specialization, to try to comprehend the formation and transformation of space and knowledge in ancient civilizations. Together, they are providing an interdisciplinary overview of historical events and their interconnectivity.  This is achieved through, among other things, the formation of research groups.

“The many research groups within Topoi are placed together in four separate areas on the basis of their themes and methodological concepts”, Lidewij explains. “This creates possibilities to exchange ideas with scholars from other fields, either spontaneous or through reading groups and workshops. Research group C-1 of which I am a member, focusses, for instance, on strategies of perspectivation. We aim to apply modern linguistic theories, including cognitive linguistics, to study perspectivation techniques in ancient languages, texts, and images. As a group, we mainly discuss linguistic theories and methodological problems.”

This interdisciplinary exchange is a helpful research tool.  Issues can be looked at by specialists from various disciplines. Because everybody uses their own material as case studies, researchers are provided with a lot of interesting information from other members and about other specialisations, which one would otherwise not have gotten in contact with.

For Lidewij, moving abroad has turned out to be an excellent choice. Knowing from others what the Topoi project involves, she welcomed the offer to come to Berlin with open arms. It has enhanced her framework of knowledge and has given her experience with working at foreign universities and cooperating within a large project. “After finishing my studies in Assyriology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Berlin was a great opportunity for me”, she says. “The city’s international atmosphere is reflected at the university. Due to Topoi and the many different projects within the Freie Universität Berlin, there is quite a large group of PhD students in Assyriology and Hittitology present here. Especially the nice atmosphere within this group makes it very easy to exchange ideas with many colleagues.”

Lidewij van de Peut is a doctoral fellow at Exzellenzcluster 264 Topoi, and the Institut für Altorientalistik, Freie Universität Berlin, within the programme of Ancient Languages and Texts (ALT) at the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS).